5 chilling details about Mary Lynn Vialpando's murder

Mary Lynn Vialpando
1988 murder victim Mary Lynn Vialpando pictured with her husband and daughter (Image via The Cinemaholic)

The 1988 case of Mary Lynn Vialpando remained a mystery to all until 2018 when modern-day DNA technology was used to find the killer of the young mother after three decades. She was found brutally murdered and r*ped in an Old Colorado City alley.

Vialpando's case became the first in Colorado's history where DNA evidence was collected from the crime scene. The evidence was later linked to a man named James Papol, who was already being held at a mental institution for unrelated crimes and had an extensive rap sheet. Sources confirmed that Papol was only 15 years old when he attacked Vialpando.

Retired investigator Lt. Joe Kenda will further delve into the case on Homicide Hunter: The Man With No Face. The synopsis states:

"Joe Kenda's investigation into the brutal rape and murder of a young wife and mother goes cold until DNA technology leads cold-case detectives to the most unlikely of killers 30 years later."

The episode airs on Investigation Discovery this Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at 9.00 pm ET.


Mary Lynn Vialpando's murder: Five key facts to know about the decades-old killing of the young Colorado Springs mother

1) Vialpando was the married mother of a four-year-old at the time

At the time of the murder in 1988, Mary Lynn Vialpando was married to Robert "Bob" Vialpando, who described her as "the love of my life." The two only started dating in 1982 after she graduated from high school from Coronado High School and had known each other since kindergarten and even resided in the same neighborhood. The couple also had a young four-year-old daughter named Carol.


2) Her brutally stabbed and battered body was found in an Old Colorado City alley

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On June 5, 1988, Mary Lynn Vialpando's body was found in a dark alley in the 2600 block of Colorado Avenue in Old Colorado City. The area was about four blocks from where her house was located. Authorities described the viciousness with which she was attacked as evidently visible from the wounds all over her body.

According to reports, "there was not an inch of her body that did not have some kind of injury mark." Vialpando may have been raped based on the condition in which her body was discovered. Her legs were split apart, her skirt was pulled up, and undergarments were seen close to her right foot.


3) Mary Lynn Vialpando died of blunt-force trauma to the head

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Reports state that Vialpando's clothes were soaked in blood. Furthermore, there were significant abrasions and bruises on her back, hands, and forearm, consistent with defensive injuries. Mary also had three defensive cuts with a short-bladed knife beneath her left breast.

After an autopsy, the medical examiner declared the cause of death as severe blunt force injuries to the head, which caused her brain to swell. Further examination revealed hemorrhages and injuries that were consistent with a s*xual assault.


4) DNA evidence collected from the crime scene was used to find the killer three decades later

Authorities investigating the crime scene in 1988 discovered a large rock covered in blood that was probably used to attack Mary Lynn Vialpando. They also gathered semen and other DNA evidence from the scene, with a clump of hair in the victim's hands being the most valuable piece. However, a lack of technology in those days hindered the investigation, and the case went cold for nearly three decades.

The Colorado Springs Police Department sought the assistance of Parabon NanoLabs, known for specializing in DNA phenotyping, in 2017. The technology used DNA evidence to create a snapshot composite of the killer, leading to a suspect in 2018 when a routine DNA database search found a match on CODIS. James Papol.


5) James Papol pleaded guilty in connection to Mary Lynn Vialpando's killing in May 2021

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According to reports, James Papol, who was already spending time at the Colorado State Mental Health Institute in Pueblo for unrelated crimes, had an extensive rap sheet at the time of his arrest. Papol was initially charged with first-degree murder. He invoked insanity as a defense to his not-guilty plea.

In May 2021, 48-year-old Papol finally pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the 1988 homicide of 24-year-old Mary Lynn Vialando. He was given a 60-year prison term. The accused, who was just 15 years old at the time of the murder, also confessed to the murder, claiming that he attacked Vialpando "in an attempt to rob her."


Homicide Hunter: The Man With No Face airs this Wednesday with Mary Lynn Vialpando's case.

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