DNA find reignites cold case of woman found dead in '87

Imprisoned rapist confesses to the murder of 19-year-old Diana Deso; family finally learns details

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Date: Friday, January 21, 2005

TROY - For 17 years, the family of Diana Deso agonized over who could have abducted the 19-year-old woman as she walked along Central Avenue in Colonie early one August morning. Her body was found later that day, floating in the Hudson River.

On Thursday, the family learned the grisly details of what happened in 1987. Authorities said a convicted rapist serving time in Coxsackie Correctional Facility admitted he picked up Deso as she hitchhiked, raped her on the tailgate of his truck and suffocated her before he callously dumped her into the river. Rae T. Kellar, formerly of Rensselaer, was tied to the crime after his DNA was entered into a state database. Authorities said they were able to make a match last May and went to work building a case against Kellar. On Christmas Eve, investigators drove to the prison in Greene County and finally confronted their suspect. They said Kellar broke down and confessed.

"This has been a very, very difficult nightmare for us," Mary Ann Deso said after watching Kellar be arraigned on charges of killing her daughter.

Deso sat next to her husband, James, their son Anthony and other family members as Kellar, 43, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges before County Judge Patrick McGrath.

Kellar has been in prison since 1990, when he was sentenced to 81/3 to 25 years for raping a 16-year-old girl in a wooded area near a gravel pit in East Greenbush two years after Deso's murder.

"We have lived in a sort of fear all these years that our daughter's killer was still out there someplace and possibly hurting someone else," Deso said.

Diana Deso lived on Garfield Place in Albany at the time she vanished while walking eastbound on Central Avenue around 1:45 a.m. Aug. 20. She had left her grandmother's house on Lincoln Avenue earlier that night.

Later that morning a man walking his dog along the east bank of the Hudson River in North Greenbush found her body washed ashore.

State Police efforts came up emp ty. But a 1996 state law requiring convicted rapists to submit DNA samples provided investigators with a solid lead when Kellar's DNA allegedly matched evidence in the case, said State Police Capt. Frank Pace.

"This was a cold hit, something you hope for but rarely see," said Rensselaer County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis.

When investigators questioned Kellar last month, they said he signed a written statement admitting to the crime.

Kellar said he was drinking and snorting cocaine the night he spotted the teenager hitchhiking on Central Avenue.

"She said she had a fight with her boyfriend and seemed upset," Kellar wrote.

Kellar said he drove the woman to a secluded spot near the banks of the river just north of the Patroon Island Bridge and forced the victim to have sex on the back tailgate of his gray pickup.

"I remember her saying she was gonna tell," according to the statement. "Next thing I know I had my arm around her neck and throat in a choke hold from behind. She was struggling but could not say anything because of the choke hold. I squeezed until she dropped."

Kellar slid Deso's clothed body into the river and climbed into his truck. He spotted Deso's purse on the passenger seat and tossed it out the window.

He later said he learned from news reports that Deso's body had been found.

"I couldn't believe what I had done," Kellar wrote. "At the time I had done it I knew she was dead. I don't know how I could have done that."

Deso was last seen near the intersection of Fuller Road, at about the same spot where State University at Albany student Karen Wilson, who disappeared in 1985, was last seen. Her case remains unsolved.

Pace said investigators asked Kellar about Wilson. "We believe that he was only involved in the Deso case," Pace said.

After admitting to Deso's murder, Kellar wrote a one-page apology to her family pleading for forgiveness. "I can only hope that now you can at least try to find some relief in knowing that I'm in jail and that I can't hurt anyone else," Kellar wrote.

Investigators showed the note to the family, but it failed to move Mary Ann Deso.

"It's worthless," she said.

Kellar was returned to the jail without bail. He faces up to 25 years to life on the new charges.

Pace said the Deso DNA evidence had to be compared to 60,000 other samples from known rapists. Officials credited the hard work of Allison Eastman of the State Police Forensic Lab in spending months before making a match. "She is my angel," Mary Ann Deso said. "I stand and applaud her efforts and the efforts of all the investigators who found out what happened to my daughter and brought the person to justice."

Bob Gardinier can be reached at 454-5696 or by e-mail at bgardinier@timesunion.com.

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OTHER OPEN CASES Other notable unsolved crimes: NAME, AGE, HOMETOWN CIRCUMSTANCES TYPE OF CASE Audrey May Herron, 32, Catskill Vanished Aug. 29, 2002 Missing persons Suzanne Lyall, 20, Ballston Spa Vanished March 2, 1998 Missing persons Edward "Mitt" Croley, 14, Albany Remains found Jan. 8, 1992 Unsolved homicide Mei Ling White, 8, Troy Body found July 25, 1989 Unsolved homicide Terri Kay Roark, 31, Mt. Pleasant, Texas Body discovered March 29, 1988, on the "Twin Bridges." Unsolved homicide Karen L. Wilson, 22, Plattsburgh Last seen on Central Avenue in Albany March 27, 1985 Missing persons Bobby Gutkaiss, 15, Stephentown Body found June 30, 1983 Unsolved homicide Jeanne Scrima, 44, Knox Vanished March 19, 1980 Missing persons Source: Times Union Research