DNA used to solve 58-year-old cold case of a 9-year-old girl

Marise Chiverella's body was found in a hole in Hazleton, Pennsylvania 58 years ago

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published February 13, 2022 11:35AM (EST)

DNA, Atoms and particles (Getty Images/Yuichiro Chino)
DNA, Atoms and particles (Getty Images/Yuichiro Chino)

Pennsylvania state police were able to close the books on the 58-year-old cold case of a 9-year-old girl named Marise Chiverella using DNA evidence pulled from her jacket.

On March 18, 1964 Chiverella left her home to walk to school and later that afternoon her body was discovered in a coal refuse pit, according to CNN. Officers at the scene were able to determine that the young girl had been sexually assaulted, but were unable to narrow down a suspect for her murder. In 2007, with the help of modern technology, they were able to run tests on her belongings, discarded in the pit along with her body, in search of new DNA evidence. Police pulled a fluid sample from Chiverella's jacket and ran it through their new system in hopes of narrowing down a suspect, but no matches popped up.

"Police checked the database monthly against all other criminals that had DNA in the system," said Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant Devon Brutosky.

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On Thursday, the outcome Pennsylvania police had been seeking for nearly 60 years was finally obtained. A mix of DNA and genealogy tracking produced a positive match to a man named James Paul Forte, who died in 1980.

The naming of Chiverella's killer can be credited to current, as well as retired, state detectives and officials, but a great deal of assistance was also provided by genealogist Eric Schubert who is skilled at using DNA to track down family trees. Schubert was only 18 years old when he reached out to state police and offered to help search for the young girl's killer, expecting no compensation in return. 

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"Mr. Schubert began genealogical work on the family tree of our match and very shortly we were provided names of relatives who were scattered throughout the country," a police statement said. "We were fortunate enough to have most of the related family cooperate and provide us their DNA samples."

After making the determination that Forte was the main suspect in Chiverella's murder, police had his body exhumed to verify the match. Forte would have been around 20 years old when he murdered the 9-year-old girl.

"Our family now knows the identity of her murderer," said Chiverella's sister, Carmen Marie Radtke. "Justice has been served today."

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By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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Aggregate Cold Case Crime Dna Marise Chiverella Murder