Rita Curran, 24, was a Burlington, Vermont, elementary school teacher who was just beginning her career when her life was brutally cut short in July 1971. A roommate found her nude, beaten, and strangled to death. The case eventually went cold, languishing for over fifty years. Now, thanks to DNA and advancements in forensic research, Curran’s killer has a name, according to Vermont investigators — William DeRoos.
There won’t be any justice in the courtroom for Curran — DeRoos died in San Francisco in 1986 from a drug overdose.
In 1971 he was a 31-year-old newlywed living in the same building as Curran. DeRoos’s story was that he and his wife had been together that night, and neither had heard anything.
According to CNN, one of the first big 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 that had been found next to Curran’s body, Detective Lt. James Trieb said at the news conference. Though the profile was submitted to a national criminal database for DNA, he said, no matches were made. That meant the person with that DNA likely never had genetic material entered into the database, possibly because the person didn’t have a felony conviction.
In a Wednesday press conference, Detective Lt. James Trieb described how he began investigating the case in 2019, approaching Curran’s murder as if it had just occurred.
According to his report on the investigation, Trieb discussed the case with detectives and “expert technicians.”
Evidence was retested, and Trieb 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 to discover ancestral roots. By comparing genetic markers with those of others, genetic genealogy can trace family trees back through generations and across continents. In Curran’s case, an expert tied DNA from the discarded cigarette to DeRoos’s relatives on both sides. The expert was unequivocal, according to the police report, in saying the killer had to be the dead man.
After also finding DeRoos’s DNA on Curran’s torn housecoat, police re-interviewed his former wife, and she admitted she’d lied regarding his whereabouts in 1971.
This marks yet another cold case closed by combining DNA and genealogy research, the most famous perhaps being the 2018 arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer. Since DeAngelo’s arrest, the new field has expanded in popularity and public recognition, as more unsolved crimes have been surprisingly solved after years of mystery.