Victim in City's 'Oldest, Most Infamous' Cold Case Identified

'Trunk Lady' now has a name: Sylvia June Atherton
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2023 2:00 AM CDT
Updated Jun 4, 2023 11:35 AM CDT
Victim in City's 'Oldest, Most Infamous' Cold Case Identified
Sylvia June Atherton   (St. Petersburg Police Department)

A Florida city's "oldest and most infamous cold case" has been solved, 54 years later. A woman's partially clothed body, strangled with a Western-style bolo tie and wrapped in a plastic bag, was found inside a black steamer trunk in the woods behind a St. Petersburg restaurant on Halloween in 1969. Long known only as the "Trunk Lady," police were finally able to identify her using genetic genealogy, NBC News reports. She was Sylvia June Atherton, a 41-year-old mother of five from Tucson, Arizona, who was married to a man named Scott Brown. Brown, who died in 1999, never reported her missing and did not list her on bankruptcy records or other court records. "You can see there’s some inferences there that we have to kind of fill in the gaps," the city's assistant police chief says.

The trunk that contained Atherton's body, which also had head injuries, belonged to Atherton and Brown; police say that, according to witnesses, it was dumped in the area by two white men in a pickup truck. Police are now asking for the public's help solving the murder as well as locating all of Atherton's children. One of her daughters, who was 9 when her mother disappeared, says Atherton left her and her brother with their dad (Atherton's former husband) in Tucson and went to Chicago with her 5-year-old daughter and Brown, as well as an adult son, daughter, and son-in-law. "We had no idea what happened to her," Brown's daughter who remained in Tucson says. Police found an original sample of Atherton's hair and skin from the initial autopsy and used that to get a DNA profile, which was then run through a DNA database and compared to DNA profiles from her children, KOLD reports. (Read more cold cases stories.)

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