For nearly three decades, the murder of Denise Sharon Kulb remained unsolved—until a pair of separated yellow socks helped lead to an arrest in the case.
The Philadelphia District Attorney and Pennsylvania State Police announced the arrest of Kulb’s former boyfriend, Theodore Dill Donahue, 52, Tuesday after an “extensive” re-examination of the 27-year-old’s death.
“Twenty-eight years ago, Denise Sharon Kulb was found dead in a remote area in the suburbs, abandoned and discarded,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement announcing the arrest. “She was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a friend. She deserved far better than to be killed and left in a location unknown to those who mourned her.”
Donahue had long been considered a suspect in Kulb’s death, but a pair of pale yellow socks, along with witness interviews and changes to Donahue’s story over the years, finally provided enough evidence to make the arrest, authorities said.
Kulb was discovered dead in a wooded, undeveloped cul-de-sac on Nov. 12, 1991, nearly a month after she was last seen alive. She was found wearing only a sweater, but two pairs of pants, a T-shirt, jacket and one pale yellow sock were discovered on top of the body, prosecutors said.
Investigators from Delaware County initially handled the investigation and ruled her death a homicide.
Several days later, on Nov. 15, 1991, Pennsylvania State Troopers found a yellow sock that appeared to match the one found with the body while conducting a search of Donahue’s apartment. But it wasn’t until decades later—when investigators used photo-enhancing technology to re-examine the socks—that they were able to connect the pair in what prosecutors said was a “key piece of evidence” in the case.
Kulb and Donahue had reportedly lived together briefly at the beginning October 1991—but she moved out just two weeks later.
Donahue initially told investigators that the last time he saw Kulb was on Oct. 18, 1991 when they bought and took crack together. He told authorities that they were robbed at knifepoint, and when Kulb ran to get help she never returned, prosecutors said.
His story changed when the Pennsylvania State Police re-interviewed him in 2015. This time investigators say he told them the last time he'd seen Kulb was on Oct. 18, 1991 outside of a bar.
Her family reported seeing her alive the following day at a funeral. Her sister said Kulb had gotten into a fight with Donahue outside of the bar where she worked on October 19, the last day she was seen alive. Phone records also showed that the pair had spoken that day before they allegedly met outside the bar, authorities said.
Although investigators had no DNA to link Donahue to the crime, several things made them suspicious:
In a 1991 interview with investigators, Donahue admitted his nickname was “Ted Bundy.” He also called the Pennsylvania State Police to ask about the autopsy results and offered to help with the investigation in what police at the time believed was a “nervous manner.”
A friend of Donahue’s also told investigators that in a past conversation Donahue had said that Kulb was “not coming back.”
Another acquaintance reported in 2015 that Donahue kept a packet of information on the case—including his phone records, a photo of Kulb and her obituary—that had never been given to investigators at the time of her death.
Other witness interviews recounted Donahue’s retelling of how his former girlfriend was discovered dead face-down in the woods strangled to death, revealing details about the crime that “no one but an eyewitness” would know, prosecutors said.
Donahue was taken into custody Tuesday morning.
He’s now facing charges of murder, abuse of corpse, tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice and false reports to police.
His attorney, R. Emmett Madden, has said his client is not guilty.
“He denies the charges, and we will dispute it in court,” Madden told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
However, Anthony Voci, the supervisor of the district attorney’s homicide unit, told the local paper that the arrest “demonstrates our commitment to the ideal that there is no case, no amount of time, that we consider a lost cause.”
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