Authorities have identified the remains of an Arizona woman who was strangled to death and left in a trunk in St. Petersburg, Florida, more than 50 years ago, and are now seeking the public’s help in identifying her killer and finding her victims. daughters, police announced. Tuesday.
Police used genetic genealogy to identify Sylvia June Atherton, long known as the ‘Trunk Lady’ because of where her body was found, as the victim of what the St. Petersburg Police Department called the «oldest and most infamous cold case» in the city.
Atherton, a mother of five from Tucson, Arizona, was 41 at the time of her death in 1969, police said. A pair of officers found her partially clothed body, wrapped in a large plastic bag and strangled with what police described as «a men’s western-style bolo tie» in a black trunk in a wooded area behind a restaurant at 4200 34th Street South on Halloween. the St. Petersburg Police Department said in a Facebook post. She also had «visible head injuries,» the police department’s Facebook post said.
Witnesses said two white men left the trunk in the area after removing it from a van, Deputy Chief Michael Kovacsev told reporters Tuesday.
The trunk was owned by Atherton and her husband, Scott Brown, Kovacsev added. Brown died in 1999 in Las Vegas without leaving any mention of a wife in court records, police said in the Facebook post. She also did not report her missing and did not list her in the bankruptcy filings, Kovacsev said.
“You can see there are some inferences there that we have to fill in the gaps,” he said, adding that police are still seeking the public’s help in coming forward with any information they may have.
Atherton’s body was exhumed from a local grave, where she was buried as «Jane Doe», in February 2010 as part of what authorities said were multiple failed efforts by investigators over the years to identify the remains. using degraded teeth and bone samples.
«Especially with the older cases, DNA was not thought of,» Kovacsev told Tampa’s NBC affiliate WFLA. «The preservation of evidence was not necessarily as well thought out as the way we do things today.»
But the advent of genetic genealogy, which has been used to identify a number of victims and suspects in recent years, has presented a new opportunity for investigators working on cold cases. (The St. Petersburg Police Department also announced Tuesday the identification of a now-deceased suspect in the 1997 murder of Richard Evans, then 18.)
A St. Petersburg police detective discovered an original sample of Atherton’s hair taken during the autopsy that had not been tested and sent it to a lab in Texas earlier this year, according to police. The samples yielded a DNA profile, and investigators ran it through a DNA database, identified her relatives, and obtained DNA samples from some of her children to finally confirm her identity.
One of Atherton’s daughters, Syllen Gates of California, told investigators that her mother left her and her brother with their father in Tucson when she went to Chicago with her husband, Brown; her 5-year-old daughter, Kimberly Anne Brown; her adult son Gary Sullivan; and her adult daughter Donna and her husband David Lindhurst.
Police are still trying to locate Kimberly and Donna, who they believe «may have additional information on the case,» they wrote in Tuesday’s announcement.
Gates, who was 9 years old at the time of his mother’s murder, told WFLA that his mother’s fate remained a mystery until she was identified.
“We had no idea what happened to him,” he said.