After 53 years, Tucson woman identified as murder victim

After 53 years, Tucson woman identified as murder victim
After 53 years, Tucson woman identified as murder victim(St. Petersburg Police Department)
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 1:43 PM MST|Updated: May. 30, 2023 at 1:58 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A woman who became known as the “trunk lady” to many has been identified after 53 years.

St. Petersburg’s oldest cold case victim has been identified through DNA, and is Sylvia June Atherton, a mother of five from Tucson, AZ.

St. Petersburg Police say on October 31st, 1969, two St. Petersburg Police officers found a black steamer trunk in a wooded area behind a restaurant.

When they opened the trunk, they found a woman’s body wrapped in a large plastic bag. The victim had injuries to her head and was strangled with a man’s Western-style Bolo tie. She was partially clothed in a pajama top.

She was buried in a grave marked “Jane Doe,” but her body was exhumed on February 10th, 2010.

Over many the years, St. Petersburg investigators say they tried multiple times to identify the victim using her teeth and bone samples, but the samples were too degraded. The mystery of the “Trunk Lady”, as the case came to be known, was featured on television shows, articles, and cold case conferences.

This year, a St. Petersburg Cold Case Detective found an original sample of the victim’s hair and skin taken during the original autopsy and sent it to OTHRAM LABS in Texas. In April a DNA profile resulted from the sample and DNA profiles were obtained from her children to confirm her identity.

She is now known as Sylvia June Atherton. Police say she was 41 years old when she died.

The Detective was able to find Atherton’s daughter Syllen Gates, who was nine years old at the time of Sylvia’s disappearance.

According to her daughter, Sylvia Atherton, left Tucson with her husband Stuart Brown, five-year-old daughter Kimberly Anne Brown, adult son Gary Sullivan, adult daughter Donna and her husband David Lindhurst, and went to Chicago. Nine-year-old Syllen and her 11-year-old brother were left with their father from a previous marriage, in Tucson. Adult son Gary Sullivan also eventually returned to Tucson to live with them.

The Detective learned Stuart Brown, died in 1999 in Las Vegas, NV, but there was no mention of a wife in his court records.

Police say there are still many questions that they need answered in this case, like who did it, and where the victim’s other children are.

The St. Petersburg Police Department is asking anyone with information regarding their whereabouts, or regarding the homicide, to contact Detective Wallace Pavelski at 727-893-4823.