Police Use Cigarette Butt, DNA Testing To Solve 52-Year-Old Murder Case


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A 52-year-old cold case in Vermont has been solved thanks to DNA retrieved from a discarded cigarette butt left next to the body of the victim, police said Tuesday.

Police were called to a Burlington apartment in the early morning hours of July 20, 1971, to find 24-year-old Rita Curran strangled in her bedroom, ABC News reported.

For decades, the case remained unsolved, but in 2014 police took a key piece of evidence — a cigarette butt — from the scene and sent it off for DNA analysis. While the analysis provided a DNA profile of the smoker, none of the profiles matched those within the police database, the outlet stated. In 2019, detectives compared the profile to those submitted to commercial DNA genetic mapping sites. This led to a breakthrough in the case in August 2022, when the sample identified a possible suspect, Curran’s upstair’s neighbor, William DeRoos, ABC News reported.

At the time, police questioned DeRoos and his wife about the murder, but both of them had denied hearing anything. After the case renewed its investigation in 2019, DeRoos’ wife reportedly admitted to police that she had lied in 1971. Initially telling officers she and her husband had been home, she later admitted that her husband had left for a “cool down walk” for a period of about 70 minutes, according to ABC News. When he returned, he allegedly told his wife not to tell anyone he had left.

“I think she lied at the time because she was young. She was naive. She was newly married. She was in love,” Detective Thomas Chennette told ABC News. Chennette added that he felt she was protecting DeRoos because he had a criminal record and not because she thought he had murdered Curran.

“We’re all confident that William DeRoos is responsible for the aggravated murder of Rita Curran, 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,” Burlington Police Detective Lt. James Trieb, the commander of the Detective Services Bureau, stated, according to ABC News. (RELATED: Suspect Charged In ‘Cold-Hearted’ Murder Nearly 40 Years Later)

Curran’s parents also died before seeing justice for their daughter’s death, but Curran’s brother and sister were present when police reported their findings.

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