DNA From A Cigarette Helped Solve The Murder Of A Vermont Woman After Five Decades

After 52 years, police identified the man who viciously murdered a 24-year-old schoolteacher in the summer of 1971.

February 24, 2023
Rita Curran, 24, was strangled to death in her Burlington, Vermont apartment in the summer of 1971.

After 52 years, police identified the man who viciously murdered a 24-year-old schoolteacher in the summer of 1971.

Photo by: Burlington Police Department

Burlington Police Department

More than five decades after Rita Curran, a 24-year-old schoolteacher, was murdered in her Burlington, Vermont apartment, authorities have determined who killed her.

Curran was strangled in her apartment in July 1971 and despite a thorough investigation, authorities wouldn’t solve the murder for nearly 52 years. Now investigators are “unanimously certain” they’ve identified her killer based on DNA evidence taken from her clothing and a cigarette near her body, reported CNN.

William DeRoos, who was 31 at the time, was Curran’s upstairs neighbor, and he allegedly strangled her after he had a fight with his wife. Curran’s roommate, who was not home at the time of the murder, returned to their apartment in the early morning hours of July 20, 1971, and she discovered the victim’s body in their shared bedroom, according to ABC News.

There was a 70-minute window where DeRoos had left his apartment after an argument with his wife of two weeks. According to the Burlington police investigation report, when he went for a walk to “cool down”, he had the opportunity to murder Curran.

After the murder, DeRoos returned to his apartment, telling his new wife to not tell police that he ever left the apartment that night, and she complied with his wishes. When police interviewed the couple shortly after the murder, they said they’d been together all night, and they both said they didn’t see or hear anything.

In 2019, the case was reopened, and a team of detectives and expert technicians reviewed and discussed the case. During this time, detectives interviewed DeRoos' former wife again, according to NPR. She now admitted that he had left the apartment for the window of time when Curran’s roommates weren’t home.

The team retested evidence as part of the investigation, and they decided to analyze the DNA on the cigarette by utilizing genetic genealogy, a process that identifies potential family members of an unidentified suspect. Detectives found a living half-brother of DeRoos who provided a DNA sample, and investigators were then able to conclude that the DNA from the cigarette found by Curran’s body belonged to DeRoos. They also identified his DNA on the victim’s ripped housecoat.

Although Curran’s parents died without getting justice for their daughter, her brother and sister were able to attend the news conference where her murderer was identified.

“I don't think so much about the guy who did this as I do about Rita, my parents and what they went through. I pray to Rita and I pray to my parents,” Curran's brother Tom said, reported ABC News.

DeRoos died of a drug overdose in 1986, so police cannot prosecute him, but they say the case is now closed.

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