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Mom arrested in 1970 death of Auburn child

5:39 PM, Jan 20, 2012   |    comments
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Patricia Lee Thomas aka Patricia Lee Howell

AUBURN, CA - Nearly 42 years after a mother told police her young daughter accidentally drowned in the bathtub, the woman, now 66, has been charged with murder.

Auburn police arrested Patricia Lee Thomas Thursday night at her home outside Grass Valley after taking a new look at the death of 4-year-old Cynthia Louise Howell on May 25, 1970.

Police Chief John Ruffcorn said in a prepared statement that new information had recently been obtained by law enforcement.  He said more information would be released following Thomas' scheduled arraignment Monday afternoon.

An Auburn Journal article from May 28, 1970, reported Thomas, who was then known as Patricia Howell, told police officers that Cynthia was alone in the bathroom when she drowned in the tub.

Officers said that when they arrived at the home on Placer Street, the bathtub was empty and the child had been removed.

An autopsy revealed the cause of death as drowning, according to the article.

The 1970 article said James and Patricia Howell had two other children: a 5-year-old daughter and an infant son.  The newspaper did not give the children's names.

Thomas' neighbors on Wheeler Acres Road outside Grass Valley described Thomas and her current husband, Harry, as a "wonderful couple," and were stunned by the news she had been arrested for murder. 

News10/KXTV

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