A 52-Year-Old Piece of Evidence Leads to Killer

Vermont police say Rita Curran was killed by her upstairs neighbor
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2023 12:00 PM CST
Cigarette Butt Found by Body in 1971 Finally Leads to Killer
Tom Curran, brother of 1971 murder victim Rita Curran, faces reporters during a news conference on Tuesday at the Burlington Police Department in Burlington, Vermont.   (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

A cigarette butt was found next to 24-year-old Rita Curran's body in 1971. Some 52 years later, it would unmask her killer. The Washington Post reports that officials in Burlington, Vermont, on Tuesday said genetic genealogy has identified the late William DeRoos as the killer. He and his then-wife lived upstairs from the 2nd-grade teacher, who was beaten, strangled, and sexually assaulted, reports the Free Press. Burlington acting Police Chief Jon Murad detailed how officials believe the crime transpired: He said DeRoos argued with his wife, whom he'd married two weeks prior, on the night of July 19, 1971. DeRoos left the apartment to take a "cooldown walk," and the AP reports the crime happened within a 70-minute window.

When informed of Curran's murder the next day, DeRoos told police the couple hadn't heard or seen anything amiss. "Immediately upon closing the door, he turned to [his wife] Michelle and told her that if the police ever showed up again, she was to tell them that he had been home all night," said Lt. Jim Trieb, per the Post. She maintained that alibi for decades, only changing her story when detectives recently reinterviewed her. She was interviewed by Thomas Chenette, who said he's confident she believed for all this time that DeRoos wasn't involved in the murder, and that she lied to protect him because he had a criminal record.

Following the murder, DeRoos went to Thailand alone to study with Buddhist monks, and his wife saw little of him before the marriage ended. He died of a drug overdose in San Francisco in 1986. Curran's parents died before they learned of her killer. Her brother said at the Tuesday news conference, "Rita and I lived at home until we were 24 years old. The difference was that two weeks after Rita moved out, her life was cut short." (More cold cases stories.)

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