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Police use DNA, genealogy to solve 1964 cold case murder of Pennsylvania girl

Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Authorities in Pennsylvania say they have solved one of the oldest cold case murders in American history with ancestral DNA forensics -- the sexual assault and killing of a 9-year-old girl almost six decades ago.

Investigators with the Pennsylvania State Police announced on Thursday that DNA and ancestral tests had finally solved the killing of Marise Ann Chiverella, who disappeared while walking to school in Hazleton, Pa., on the morning of March 18, 1964.

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For decades, police investigated a number of potential suspects -- but DNA technology, genealogical databases and an exhumation of the killer's body ultimately cracked the case.

"Pennsylvania State Police was founded in 1905, so over half of our existence we've investigated this case," PSP Lt. Devon Brutosky said according to CNN.

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Authorities said that the killer's DNA was left at the crime scene, and that over the years they were able to develop a good genetic profile. Advances in forensic technology allowed police to narrow down the list of possible suspects -- and in 2018 they linked the DNA to James Paul Forte.

The link came when police sent the killer's DNA profile to a genealogical database and matched it to a distant relative. An exhumation of Forte's body last month allowed investigators to make a definitive DNA match.

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Police said Forte was arrested for a 1974 sexual assault and in 1978 for reckless endangerment. Twenty-two at the time of the girl's death, Forte died in 1980.

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Officials said that they have regularly been checking the killer's DNA against a national database since 2007, and have been using genealogical forensics for the last few years.

Several other cold cases have been solved in recent years with the help of genealogical databases, including the notorious Golden State Killer in 2018. Investigators in the San Francisco Bay Area have also said that they're hopeful that the technique might be used to finally zero in on the Zodiac, who killed at least six people in the late 1960s. He's never been identified.

"We have so many precious memories of Marise," the girl's sister, Carmen Marie Radtke, said according to CNN. "At the same time our family will always feel the emptiness and the sorrow of her absence."

"Our family now knows the identity of her murderer. Justice has been served today."

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