, 2022-02-14 02:00:00,
On the morning of March 18, 1964, nine-year-old Marise Ann Chiverella went missing on her way to school in Hazleton, Pa. Her body was found later that day, with evidence she had been sexually assaulted — and for nearly 60 years, police didn’t know who had done it.
Now, a college student with a special gift for genealogy has helped solve the decades-old cold case.
State police exhumed the long-dead assailant’s body last month and said his DNA precisely matched DNA left on Chiverella’s jacket.
Police identified her killer as James Paul Forte, a bartender with a record of violent sexual assault, who died of natural causes in 1980 at the age of 38. Police said Forte, who was 22 at the time of Chiverella’s murder, had no known connection to the little girl or her family.
Generations of state police investigators pursued Chiverella’s killer — more than 230 members of the department were involved in the probe at one time or another — but Forte’s name did not come up until recently.
“I was just reading how heinous and how terrible of a crime it was,” genealogist Eric Schubert, who is also a third-year history major at Elizabethtown College, told As It Happens host Carol Off. “It just really struck me and I knew if I could, I really wanted to help.”
Schubert, 20, used DNA technology to find a match with the sample from the girl’s jacket — and discovered a very distant relative, possibly a sixth cousin of the assailant. Then, he started building a family tree to help the police with their suspect list.
“It’s basically just a gigantic puzzle to put together,” Schubert explained, as he asked for more DNA samples throughout the two-year investigation and studied distant matches. “The hardest part was narrowing in on Mr. Forte once we had built out these family trees and then focused in on those family lines.”
Forte was never married and did not have any children, which was why the genealogist said they had to exhume him at the end to get a perfect DNA match.
“That’s the thing about genetic genealogy,” he said. “The evidence is in the DNA.”
“His bodily fluids were found on Marise Chiverella’s clothing, which is conclusive to the fact that he did this crime.”
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