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DNA from cigarette butt solves 52-year-old murder case

More than half a century after a Vermont woman's murder, DNA from a discarded cigarette butt found near her body has finally identified her killer, officials said Tuesday. 

The Burlington Police Department announced during a press conference that they had solved the death of Rita Curran, a 24-year-old schoolteacher who was murdered in her apartment in 1971. Police said that DNA found on the cigarette butt was matched to Curran's clothing, and after 52 years, her killer was conclusively identified as William DeRoos.

DeRoos lived in Curran's apartment building at the time of her murder, police said, and died of a drug overdose in 1986. 

"We're all confident that William DeRoos is responsible for the aggravated murder of Rita Curran," Burlington Police Detective Lt. James Trieb said, but he added that "because he died in a hotel room of a drug overdose, he will not be held accountable for his actions, but this case will be closed."

According to a Burlington investigation report obtained by CNN, DeRoos, "who lived with his wife two floors above Curran, had a fight with his spouse and left their apartment to 'cool down.'" Curran was later found dead, having been beaten severely. 

While the case remained cold for years, Trieb said that a break finally came in 2014 when the DNA was extracted from the nearby cigarette butt. USA Today reported that a lab in Florida was finally able to match the cigarette to DeRoos from a DNA database in 2022. 

"I don't think so much about the guy who did this as I do about Rita, my parents, and what they went through," Curran's brother Tom said, per The Associated Press"I pray to Rita and I pray to my parents."