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Burlington, Vermont police solve more than 50-year-old cold case murder

Rita Curran
Vermont State Police
Rita Curran

Over 50 years after a woman was murdered in Burlington, Vermont, police say they have solved the case.

In July 1971 Rita Curran was found dead in her bedroom. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled. The murder of the 24-year-old has been the Burlington Police Department’s oldest cold case.

On Tuesday, Acting Chief Jon Murad said investigators never stopped seeking justice in the case and have now solved it.

“What our detectives have done was only possible because of the incredible thorough initial response all those years ago," Murad said. "In 1971 detectives documented witnesses and statements. They saw where things were found. They recorded in what condition. All of that was instrumental to what was done here. They took and preserved items whose eventual scientific value they had no way of knowing. And decades later a cigarette butt recovered at the scene generated a DNA profile. Good detective work ensured that the profile could be connected to a suspect.”

It took cutting-edge DNA technology to determine who killed Curran. In 2019, Burlington Police Lieutenant Detective Commander James Trieb gathered a team to approach the case as if it had just occurred. Trieb says DNA technology now available determined that William DeRoos, then 31, killed Curran.

“The cigarette butt was discovered next to Rita’s right arm. At the time it was a Lark cigarette butt and that’s all they had," Trieb said. "It was just a brand name but they collected it anyway not knowing what DNA was going to be for another 15 years. That cigarette butt sat in evidence for over 40 years. And in 2014 they were able to extract a male DNA profile from that cigarette butt. We never got a hit from that. We decided to pick up the case. We were going to do some new testing with DNA. There was some cutting-edge stuff that was out there and have it re-tested after all these years to see if we could develop a DNA profile of our suspect. And his name was William DeRoos and he lived up on the third floor of the same building.”

At the time of the murder DeRoos had been married for two weeks. The couple had a fight and he left for a time to take a “cool-down” walk. But the two provided alibis for each other. Shortly after the murder DeRoos moved to Thailand, became a Buddhist monk and ended the marriage. He later moved to San Francisco. He died in 1986 of a morphine overdose.

Parabon Nanolabs Chief Genetic Genealogist CeCe Moore works with law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases. She says the original crime scene investigators could not have imagined that decades later the evidence they collected would lead to a single individual.

“This case was over fifty years old and it only took a few hours to narrow it down to William DeRoos. This is incredibly rare. We had a huge stroke of luck," Moore said. "After 50 years and generations of detectives working this case and it finally came down to advanced technology.”

Rita Curran’s siblings praised the police department for their persistence. Her sister Mary Campbell said they are creating a Go Fund Me campaign to help recuperate the costs of DNA testing.

Season of Justice provided a grant to the Burlington Police Department to help cover the very expensive DNA testing and genealogy," Campbell said. "And that DNA ultimately led to the solving of this case. We would like to repay Season of Justice and that money will then be given to other police departments in their quest to solve their cold case.”

DeRoos was cremated after his death in 1986. Investigators obtained DNA from DeRoos’ living half-brother Douglas McGinty during their investigation. Two ex-wives were re-interviewed. Police did not indicate whether DeRoos ever had children or has other relatives.