DNA sleuthing helps identify woman who was shot to death and her killer in 37-year-old cold case
It was 1982 when police officials found the lifeless body of a woman shot to death near Lake Tahoe, and for the last 37 years, the remains of the unidentified woman lie in a nameless grave at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Cemetery in Reno, Nevada.
However, with the help of DNA sleuths, who used samples from the crime scene, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office was able to find some closure in the last one year, and on Tuesday, May 7, they were finally able to identify the victim as well as the suspect, which they announced eventually, according to a CNN report.
"This is an incredible story, and I am extremely proud of the work done by everyone who took part in this case over the past three decades," Sheriff Darin Balaam said. According to reports, the victim was identified as Mary Silvani, who grew up in the Detroit area, moved to California and was probably estranged from her family.
At the time of her death, the 33-year-old was looking forward to a fun day by the water, dressed in her bathing suit underneath a T-shirt and shorts. Unfortunately, her body was found near a popular hiking trail on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. With authorities unable to identify her or her relatives, she was buried in an unmarked grave.
Police suspect that Silvani was murdered by James Curry, who spent time in prison in Texas and ended up in California. Authorities believe he killed a husband and wife who owned rival storage units. When he was caught, he told police about another body in one of his storage units.
While he awaited his murder trial in 1983, Curry, who was 36-years-old at the time, tried to take his own life and died from injuries days later. It is unknown whether Silvani and Curry knew each other, whether he took her to the lake that day, or whether he came upon her by chance.
Authorities originally thought Silvani, who had no ID, was born in Europe based on "unique dental work" and an inoculation scar, Balaam said. She became known as Sheep's Flat Jane Doe, a name given to her based on the trail where she was found. Moreover, the case, which eventually became cold, had gone on for so long that detectives who followed it had retired.
Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders International, who was one of the people involved in solving the crucial cold case, said detectives from the sheriff's office came to her about the case even before the case of the Golden State Killer became popular because of DNA sleuthing.
"You have to credit the sheriff's department for some forward thinking," she said. Authorities last year sent DNA from the victim and the suspect, found on Silvani's body, for genetic testing. Silvani had been fingerprinted after a 1974 misdemeanor arrest, and the victim's prints matched.
"If everybody had not done their job as this went along, this case never would have been solved," Detective Kathleen Bishop later said. A spokesman for the sheriff's office, Bob Harmon, said there have already been conversations about placing a headstone with Silvani's name on it at her grave.