Cigarette butt leads police to suspected killer in 1971 murder

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 12:04 PM MST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX/Gray News) – Authorities say DNA evidence recently processed from a cigarette butt from 1971 helped investigators solve a decades-old murder mystery.

Rita Curran was 24 years old when she was brutally beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled inside her Vermont apartment in July 1971.

Tuesday, police identified the killer as William DeRoos, who lived in the same apartment building. He was 31 years old at the time.

The case went cold for decades, but police got a major break when they tested DNA evidence from a cigarette butt found near the victim’s body that was kept over the years. The results linked the cigarette to DeRoos.

The man was questioned by police the day Curran’s body was found in 1971, but they said he convinced his then-wife to provide an alibi.

Burlington Police Lt. James Trieb said DeRoos ran to Thailand after the murder but eventually showed up in San Francisco where he met his next wife.

“Then we see the propensity of violence, unprovoked violence,” Trieb continued. “Given all this information, our detective bureau, myself, the chief, we’re all confident that William DeRoos was responsible for the aggravated murder of Rita Curran.”

DeRoos died in a hotel room of a drug overdose in 1986, so Trieb said he will not be held accountable for his actions but the case will be closed.

The Curran case triggered one of Vermont’s most notorious unsolved mysteries. At one point, infamous serial killer Ted Bundy was investigated as a possible suspect.

Curran was a beloved second-grade teacher at the time of her murder.

For more than 50 years, her family has waited for justice. Her parents were still waiting when they died.

Police shared the news with Curran’s family last week.

During a press conference Tuesday morning, her brother thanked the police for all their work to solve the case.