College Student Helps ID Suspect in 1964 Pennsylvania Cold Case Murder

After nearly six decades, a Pennsylvania murder case has finally been solved, thanks to the assistance of a 20-year-old genealogy expert.

The case involved the death of Marise Ann Chiverella, a 9-year-old who was abducted on the morning of March 18, 1964, while on her way to school in the coal-mining town of Hazleton.

A search ensued for Marise, and her body was found about five hours later, dumped in a coal pit. She had been strangled to death after being raped, according to investigators.

Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) officers and detectives chased leads for years, trying to track down Marise's killer with no luck. This is despite over 230 members of the PSP continuing to pursue the case over a number of generations, according to the Associated Press.

Finally, with help from Eric Schubert, a 20-year-old student at Elizabethtown College who reportedly specializes in genealogy and DNA analysis, officials cracked the case.

Pennsylvania Cold Case
Pennsylvania State Police officers were able to identify a suspect in a 1964 murder, thanks to the assistance of a 20-year-old college student who's an expert in DNA analysis. iStock/Getty

The suspect in Marise's killing is James Paul Forte, a bartender with a reported history of sex crimes, who died in 1980.

Investigators said that Forte was not personally connected to the girl or her family, and that the crime appeared to be random.

In 2018, police had used a genealogy database to match the DNA of a then-unidentified Forte to a distant relative of Marise. With this knowledge, Schubert volunteered to help investigators solve the case, putting together an extensive family tree that eventually caused police to identify Forte as the suspect.

Officials exhumed Forte's body in January and said they were able to match his DNA to a sample that had been left on Marise's coat in 1964.

"What happened to [Marise] ushered in a change to this community. Whether you like it or not, the way you lived changed after March 18 of 1964 in Hazleton," PSP Corporal Mark Baron said, adding that her death was believed to be the fourth-oldest cold case in the U.S. to be solved using DNA.

"This has been a day that this family had been waiting for nearly 58 years," Baron added. "Even though we couldn't bring charges against Mr. Forte, I hope that this brings some type of closure for [the] family. I really do."

Schubert, who also appeared at the press conference, said he had been helping other police departments solve cold cases before finding Marise's story.

"The investigation that went into all of this work was probably the hardest genealogy task that I've ever faced. This was probably the hardest thing that I've ever done in my entire life," Schubert told reporters. "It means so much to me that I was able to be on the team that could provide answers to the Chiverella family."

Many members of that family also appeared at the press conference, and expressed their gratitude to investigators for helping to solve Marise's murder.

"We have so many precious memories of Marise. At the same time, our family will always feel the emptiness and sorrow of her absence," said Marise's sister, Carmen Marie Radtke. "We will continue to ask ourselves: 'What would have been, what could have been?'"

Marise's brother, Ronald Chiverella, echoed a similar sentiment.

"Now that we know the individual, it gives us a sense of closure," Chiverella told WNEP-TV. "No full closure — we'll never have that. But a sense of closure that we know the individual that did it and that the individual isn't out committing the same crime and hurting other young girls like Marise."

"We are extremely proud of...Eric Schubert and his genealogy work to help others learn about their family history or provide life-changing information as such in the recent discovery in the case of Marise Ann Chiverella," Elizabethtown College spokesperson Keri Straub told Newsweek.

"Eric is truly an example of the type of students we have on our campus who embody our college motto, Educate for Service, by him providing his knowledge, talents, and energy to make deep impact on the lives of others."

Newsweek has also reached out to the Hazleton Police Department for comment.

Update 02/11/2022, 6 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with a statement from Elizabethtown College.