Thursday, 23 Mar 2023

Discarded cigarette butt helps solve school teacher's murder 52 years ago

Police in Vermont were able to solve a 52-year-old cold case murder of a school teacher by identifying the killer’s DNA on a cigarette butt left at the crime scene.

On Tuesday morning, police in Burlington announced they had solved Rita Curran’s 1971 murder. They identified the killer as William DeRoos – an upstairs neighbor who later left the country for Thailand to become a Buddhist monk.

‘The random violence of her murder left a stain on our community and it devastated her family,’ Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said. ‘For 50 years they have waited for justice. Rita’s parents died waiting for it.’

Curran, a 24-year-old second grade teacher, was found murdered in her bedroom by her roommates. She was found strangled, but there was evidence that she fiercely resisted her attacker.

Murad said that the contemporary investigators were only able to solve the case because of thorough work of detectives in 1971.

‘They took and preserved items whose scientific value they had no way of knowing,’ Murad said. ‘And decades later, a cigarette butt, recovered at the scene generated a DNA profile.’

In 2014, investigators ran the DNA profile gathered from the cigarette through a database of convicted felons. They were able to determine the killer was a male, but they were unable to match it to any known suspects.

When investigators ran a second DNA test, they were finally able to match it to surviving relatives of DeRoos.

DeRoos, who was 31 in 1971, lived two floors above Curran with his wife Michelle. The couple had only been married two weeks on the night of the murder, and got into a fight the same night.

DeRoos and his wife originally told detectives they hadn’t left the apartment at all that evening. Shortly after Curran’s death, DeRoos moved to Thailand and became a Buddhist monk. His marriage ended while he was overseas.

DeRoos eventually died from a morphine overdose in San Francisco, fifteen years after Curran’s murder.

Fifty years after the murder, investigators tracked Michelle down to ask her some more questions about the case. ‘She gave us an interesting statement that filled in a lot of gaps that we didn’t have,’ Detective-Lieutenant James Trieb said.

Michelle said her husband did leave the apartment on the night of the murder to take a ‘cool down walk’ after their fight.

She also instructed her to lie to police if they ever asked her about that night again. ‘She was to tell him he was home all night, and if they knew he was out they would come after him for this,’ Trieb said.

With this testimony, combined with the DNA evidence, Trieb said he was ‘confident’ that DeRoos was the person responsible for Curran’s death.

Curran’s siblings, Tom Curran and Mary Curran Campbell, both gave statements after the case update was announced. They thanked all the detectives and investigators who worked on her case over the years.

‘I don’t think so much about the guy who did this as I do about Rita, my parents and what they went through,’ her brother Tom Curran said.

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