Vermont police closed cold case with DNA

Rita Curran, 24, was a teacher in Burlington, Vermont, just beginning her career when her life was brutally ended in July 1971. A roommate found her naked, beaten and strangled to death. The case eventually went cold, languishing for over fifty years. Now, thanks to DNA and advances in forensics, Curran’s killer has a name, according to Vermont investigators — William DeRoos.

There will be no courtroom justice for Curran — DeRoos died in San Francisco in 1986 of a drug overdose.

In 1971 he was a 31-year-old newlywed living in the same building as Curran. DeRoos’ story was that he and his wife were together that night, and neither had heard anything.

According to CNN, one of the first major developments in the case occurred in 2014:

A break in the case finally came in 2014 when a DNA profile was extracted from a cigarette butt found next to Curran’s body, Detective Lt. James Trieb said at the news conference. Although the profile was submitted to a national criminal DNA database, he said, no matches were made. This meant that the person with that DNA had likely never had genetic material entered into the database, possibly because the person had no felony conviction.

At a news conference Wednesday, Detective Lt. James Trieb described how he began investigating the case in 2019, approaching Curran’s murder as if it had just happened.

According to his investigative report, Trieb discussed the case with detectives and “technical experts.”

The evidence was reviewed, and Trimb said his team used DNA found on a cigarette butt near Curran’s body to do genetic genealogy.

Genetic genealogy is a research method that uses DNA test results to find relationships between individuals and discover ancestral roots. By comparing genetic markers with those of others, genealogy can trace family trees back generations and across continents. In Curran’s case, an expert linked DNA from the discarded cigarette to DeRoos’ relatives on both sides. The medical examiner was adamant, according to the police report, that the killer had to be the dead man.

After also finding DeRoos’ DNA on Curran’s torn coat, police re-interviewed his ex-wife and she admitted she had lied about her whereabouts in 1971.

This marks yet another cold case closed with a combination of DNA and genealogical research, the most famous perhaps being the 2018 arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer. Since DeAngelo’s arrest, the new field has grown in popularity and public recognition as more unsolved crimes have been surprisingly solved after years of mystery.

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