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World News | Discarded cigarette butts, DNA test solve 52-year-old’s murder

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BURLINGTON, Feb. 22 (AP) A discarded cigarette found near the body of a 24-year-old Vermont school teacher nearly 52 years ago helped investigators find an upstairs neighbor, They said she strangled her after a fight with her wife, police said here.

DNA evidence gathered from cigarette butts and tenacious investigative work by Burlington police led authorities to the man who they said killed Rira Curran within a 70-minute window one night in July 1971.

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The suspect, identified as William DeRoos, then 31, left the apartment that night to “take a walk to cool off.” When he came back, he told his wife, who had been married for two weeks, not to say he was out.

Since the 2019 reopening of the investigation, detectives have re-interviewed DeRoos’ ex-wife, who told them that he left Curran’s apartment for a short period of time while his roommate was away from her Burlington apartment.

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“We all believe William Drews was responsible for the grisly murder of Rita Curran, but since he died in a hotel room of a drug overdose, he will not be held accountable for his actions, but the case will be closed,” Burlington Detective Bureau Chief Detective Lt. James Tribe said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

After Curran’s death, DeRoos, known by some as a guru, emigrated to Thailand and became a monk, but he later returned to the United States. Drews died of a drug overdose in San Francisco in 1986, police said.

Curran’s parents died without knowing who killed their daughter, but the victim’s siblings attended the event at Burlington police headquarters.

Curran’s brother Tom said at the event: “I don’t think about Rita, my parents and what they’re going through, the way I think about the people who did it. My prayers go out to Rita, and to My parents pray.”

In the early morning hours of July 20, 1971, Burlington police were called to the Brooks Avenue apartment after Curran’s roommate returned home to find her body in the bedroom they shared.

Curran resisted fiercely but was strangled, police said. The murder shocked Burlington.

The case remains unsolved and investigators never let it go, but in 2019, Trieb and a team of detectives, officers, technicians and others began working on the case as if it had just happened.

A key piece of evidence was a cigarette butt found near Curran’s body. In 2014, previous investigators had sent the gun butt and other evidence for DNA analysis. The test did compile a DNA profile of the smoker, but it did not match any samples in DNA databases compiled by law enforcement.

Detectives who took over the case in 2019 contracted a DNA testing company and compared the samples with genetic material submitted by the public to commercial DNA testing companies. Detectives in Burlington were told last August that the samples had been traced through relatives on both sides of the Drews family and pointed to Drews even though he had no DNA on file.

Detectives then determined that Drews and his wife, Michelle, had been living upstairs at the time of Curran’s death. They spoke to investigators after Curran’s death, but at the time they said they didn’t see or hear anything.

DeRoos and his wife, who no longer uses the name DeRoos, left Vermont shortly after Curran’s death. Their marriage ended after Drews went to Thailand. Drews married again after moving back to the United States.

In a recent interview, Drews’ ex-wife, who lived with him in Burlington and now lives in Eugene, Oregon, told investigators she lied about her husband leaving their apartment that night. Burlington detectives later interviewed a later wife who told them that Drews enjoyed sudden outbursts of violence.

Detective Thomas Chenet, who interviewed Drews’ first ex-wife, said Tuesday he doesn’t believe she knew he killed Curran, but instead protected him because of his criminal record.

“I think she was lying because she was young. She was naive. She was just married. She was in love,” Chenette said.

Retired U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who was Chittenden County state attorney at the time of Curran’s killing, attended Tuesday’s event and attended the crime scene that night. Asked if he thought the case would be resolved, he said he had hoped so.

“I have to admit, in 20 and 30, 40 years, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. … It’s a horrible thing,” he said. (Associated Press)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)


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