(NEW YORK ) -- Eve Wilkowitz was 20 years old in 1980 when she was kidnapped, raped and strangled to death after she took a train home to Bay Shore, New York, from her secretarial job in Manhattan. Her body was found near her apartment on Long Island.
On Wednesday, Suffolk County police and prosecutors announced the killer was a man who died of cancer in 1991 and who had lived near the spot where Wilkowitz’s body was found three days after she never came home.
Investigators relied on advances in DNA technology to identify the suspect as Herbert Rice, who was 29 at the time.
"We’ve solved the 42 year old homicide case of Eve Wilkowitz," Suffolk District Attorney Raymond Tierney announced at a news conference. "This was a study in persistence, in determination to work the case no matter what."
Investigators relied on genetic genealogy, which has been used to help solve a number of cold cases across the country. It enabled police and the FBI to submit the DNA left on Wilkowitz’s body to consumer DNA databases that include countless people outside the criminal justice system.
A match was established through a relative of Rice. Investigators exhumed Rice’s body and compared DNA from his remains to the sample recovered from the initial rape kit, establishing him as the suspect.
Wilkowitz’s sister, Irene, thanked the investigators and recalled, through tears, when detectives knocked at her door with a message: "We’ve identified the person responsible for the death of Eve."
"She never got to fulfill her dreams," Irene Wilkowitz said of her sister.
Rice had three convictions for minor crimes that were ineligible for taking a DNA sample at the time.
"These types of investigations are never easy, but the relentless work and partnership helped us bring closure to the Wilkowitz family," Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said.