A Colorado Springs cold case from 1988 suddenly turned red hot when there was a big break in the murder of Mary Lynne Renkel Vialpando.
She was a young woman who had been brutally killed on the west side of town.
“I was just I think relieved more than anything, because it has been so long,” said Cynthia Renkel, Mary Lynne’s older sister.
For three decades, Cynthia has been waiting for justice.
Her little sister was brutally murdered on June 5, 1988, and for years her killer remained a mystery.
“Initially we were, my family and myself, we were all, like, in shock, and I figured, ‘Well, they’re gonna catch him,’ then they didn’t, they didn’t, the case went cold,” Cynthia said.
Mary Lynne was just 24 years old when her body was found in an alley in Old Colorado City.
According to Colorado Springs police, Mary Lynne had been stabbed in the chest and stomach.
“It was terribly brutal,” Cynthia said.
She had also been thrown on the ground, and her underwear had been pulled down.
“Not even animals do that to each other, just beat and kill for no reason,” Cynthia said.
According to the El Paso County Coroner at the time, Mary Lynne died from blunt force trauma to the head.
“She was a young strong girl and I don’t know how he overpowered her, but at some point he threw her down and she hit the back of her head on a boulder, and that is what I was told actually killed her,” Cynthia said.
Mary Lynne was also raped, and her attacker left behind his DNA.
For one of the first times in Colorado history, officers collected DNA evidence. In 1988, DNA evidence was relatively new, but Cynthia knew it was important.
“If that DNA had not been collected this person would have never been found,” she said.
Her wait for answers, though, would be long.
“I was hopeful that sooner or later they’ll find him through DNA, but then the years just went on and on and on and no DNA, no suspects, nothing,” she said.
Cynthia said at times she felt in despair, but she never completely gave up.
“I always had hope,” she said. “I always had hope that somehow, somewhere the DNA would link this crime to some person, and finally it did.”
According to police documents, the killer’s DNA profile was uploaded into CODIS, or the Combined DNA Index System database.
It sat there for years until November 30, 2017, when a match was made.
The hit led police to James Papol of Pueblo, but there was only one way to be sure. They needed another DNA sample to confirm the match.
Officers discovered Papol was a patient at the Colorado State Mental Hospital in Pueblo, and obtained a search warrant to collect his saliva.
The DNA was the same.
“After the initial ‘Ah, they found him, good’ then it’s like all the old painful memories start coming back.” Cynthia said.
Papol is now 46 years old, which means he would have been 15 at the time of the crime. That shocked Mary Lynne’s sister.
“I just don’t understand how a 15-year-old boy could be so vicious,” Cynthia said.
Another thing she doesn’t understand, is why.
“As far as I know, and I haven’t been told any differently, there’s no connection between my sister and this James Papol,” she said. “They never knew each other. She was 24. He was 15. She was just walking through the neighborhood at a time when he was out looking for trouble.”
According to his arrest affidavit, police interviewed Papol’s mother in August 2018 about that night 30 years ago.
She told them she and James were staying at a motel on West Colorado Avenue along with her other children.
She said she was a drug addict at the time and was getting high with a biker outside the motel while James watched the other kids.
When she came back to relieve him, he left for a few hours, and she was woken up by the sounds of sirens the next morning.
She also told police her son recently called her about the investigation “freaking out.” She said he told her he saw a body that night in the alley near the motel and took the woman’s jewelry.
Police also interviewed Papol’s ex-wife and two of his previous girlfriends, who described him as violent, abusive and someone who hated women.
Papol has a long documented criminal history, dating back to 1991. It includes charges of assault, trespassing, robbery and failure to appear.
There’s also kidnapping and domestic violence and menacing with a deadly weapon.
In September 2018, first-degree murder was added to the list.
“I do not have closure at all,” Cynthia said. “I don’t know if there is such a thing as closure, because I can’t really imagine what closure is. Maybe if there is a trial and he is convicted or something maybe there will be closure, but I kind of doubt it. My sister will never be back, so I’m not sure what the term ‘closure’ even really means with regard to a case like this.”
Cynthia said despite the evidence, she’s unsure what will happen next.
“This case has some problems,” she said. “He was 15. He might be tried in juvenile court. That would not be good. And then he has other issues. I guess he was in a state mental hospital, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
In several of Papol’s previous charges, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
“I really don’t have much to say to him,” Cynthia said. “‘Why did you do that,’ maybe?” Cynthia said.
She hopes the case does go to trial and that justice will finally be served.
“I think justice would mean that he be incarcerated for the rest of his life. That would be justice,” she said. “He had 30 years of his life that my sister didn’t have. I mean, it’s just not right. It’s not fair.”
Mary Lynne was taken from her four-and-a-half year old daughter, her loving family, and her sister, who wants her to know she was never forgotten.
“Just how much I love her and everybody loves her and misses her, and I never gave up,” she said. “I would have gone to my grave trying to find this person, and I’m so glad he’s at least been found, and I hope he is punished.”
Colorado Springs police declined to comment on the case because of the pending litigation.
Papol is being held at the El Paso County jail on no bond. His next court appearance is November 20, for a pre-trial conference.
Cynthia said if the case does go to trial, she’ll be there until the end.