Police in Burlington, Vermont, believe they’ve solved the decades-old murder of a teacher thanks to DNA found on a cigarette left at the crime scene.
Police said on Tuesday they have solved the murder of Rita Curran, a 24-year-old teacher who was “brutally beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled in 1971,” WCAX reported.
An analysis of DNA found on a cigarette left at the scene suggested the DNA belonged to a man named William DeRoos, now deceased, who had lived in an apartment above Curran’s at the time of her murder, the Associated Press reported.
There was no known record of DeRoos’s DNA, and a 2014 effort to identify the source of the sample in police DNA databases turned up no matches. However, law enforcement was reportedly able to infer the sample belonged to DeRoos when it tested the sample against commercial DNA databases, which had “traced [the sample] through relatives on both sides of DeRoos’s family,” per the AP.
DeRoos died in 1986, the WCAX reported.
“We’re all confident that William DeRoos is responsible for the aggravated murder of Rita Curran,” Burlington Police Detective Lt. James Trieb discussed the case in a press conference Tuesday, per AP. “but because he died in a hotel room of a drug overdose he will not be held accountable for his actions, but this case will be closed.”
The AP noted that police say DeRoos had gotten into an argument with his wife at the time of the murder and had left the house briefly.
The suspect, identified as William DeRoos, who was 31 at the time, had left his apartment that night for “a cool down walk.” After he returned he told his wife of two weeks not to say that he had been out.
Since the investigation was renewed in 2019, detectives re-interviewed DeRoos’ former wife, and she told them he had left their apartment for a brief period within a window of time when Curran’s roommates were out of her Burlington apartment.
Former Sen. Patrick Leahy (R-VT), who served as State’s Attorney of Chittenden County when the murder occurred, discussed the crime in an interview with WCAX.
“I thought, why should any young person have to go through something this terrible, and I would have given anything to be able to prosecute the person who did it,” he said.
Even after 52 years, Curran is remembered fondly by those who knew her, including former students and her two surviving siblings.
Her sister laments there are “two generations in our family who never knew her,” NBC 5 quoted her as saying.
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