DNA database helps solve decades-old crime

Authorities in Pennsylvania have claimed to solve one of the oldest cold case murders in American history thanks to DNA forensics, the United Press International reported this week.

The crime referred to was the sexual assault and killing of a nine-year-old girl in 1964. Investigators with the Pennsylvania State Police said that DNA and ancestral tests had finally solved the killing of Marise Ann Chiverella, who disappeared while walking to school in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Police had investigated potential suspects in the decades before but DNA technology, genealogical databases and an exhumation of the killer’s body solved the mystery. The killer’s DNA had been left at the crime scene and over the years, Pennsylvania State Police had developed a good genetic profile of the man.

Advances in forensic technology

Advances in forensic technology had officers to narrow down the list of possible suspects. In 2018, they linked the DNA to James Paul Forte. The connection resulted when they sent the killer’s DNA profile to a genealogical database, where it was found to match a distant relative.

Forte’s body was exhumed in January, allowing the investigators to make a definitive DNA match. Forte had been arrested in 1974 for a sexual assault and in 1978 for reckless endangerment.

He had been 22 at the time of Marise’s murder and he died in 1980.

National database used

Officials said that they have regularly been checking the killer’s DNA against a national database since 2007 and have used genealogical forensics for the last few years. Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant Devon Brutosky told CNN that the police force has been founded in 1905 and so had been investigating Marise’s murder for more than half of its existence.

In recent years, genealogical databases have helped solve a number of cold cases, including that of the notorious Golden State Killer in 2018. Investigators in the San Francisco Bay Area have also said that they hope that use of these databases will help them identify the Zodiac, someone who killed at least six people in the late 1960s and has never been identified.

Marise’s sister, Carmen Marie Radtke, said that the family had many precious memories of their relative but would always feel the emptiness and sorrow of her absence. Now that they know the identity of her murderer, they felt that justice had been served.


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