DNA Helps Solve 1995 Cold Case Killing of 17-Year-Old Girl
It was a case no one thought would go unsolved.
The body of a 17-year-old new mom had been discovered on the edge of a driving range at the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course in New York's capital district.
Most of Suzanne Nauman’s clothes had been removed and leaves had been stuffed down her throat and in her mouth.
Bite marks covered both of her exposed breasts and a shoelace, which had been used to strangle her, was still tied around her neck.
“I was there that morning and I can still vividly remember the scene that seemed that day like a case that would be easily solvable,” Schenectady District Attorney Robert Carney said.
That was May 30, 1995, and decades would pass before they would have an arrest.
Nauman's death haunted all who worked on bringing the person responsible for the young mother’s murder to justice.
Suspects were considered, but no lead panned out, and more than two decades passed without a conclusion in sight.
“That fact has troubled everyone who worked on it,” Carney said at a press conference Monday, where he announced they finally knew who killed Nauman.
Diligent investigative work, advances in technology and forensics and an old newspaper editorial led the Syracuse Police, New York State Police and prosecutors to conclude Stanislaw Maciag had murdered Nauman after picking her up on a quiet road while she fought with her boyfriend.
The new evidence also exonerated that boyfriend, Keith Gavreau, who was the original suspect in Nauman’s killing.
Gavreau was angry with Nauman for engaging in sex work and for smoking crack cocaine with other people, Carney said.
When Gavreau, who was also addicted to crack cocaine, couldn’t find Nauman, he allegedly told a witness he was going to hurt her.
The pair reunited that night and Nauman was last seen with Gavreau, who told police they were separated once again when Nauman got in the car with an unknown man.
Gavreau was arrested for with Nauman's murder in 1996.
He was also arrested and charged with the murder of Kenneth Martin, who was found on a sidewalk dead with blows to the back of his head in 1995.
Gavreau pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Martin’s death, but was never charged with Nauman’s murder.
The evidence didn’t add up.
At the scene of Nauman’s murder, investigators discovered a size eight-and-a-half sneaker missing a shoelace that matched the lace used in the killing.
Gavreau wore a size 11 shoe.
“I was not convinced Gavreau was guilty,” Carney said.
Years passed and Nauman’s case went cold, but those connected to it never forgot that the young woman had never gotten justice.
In 2014, fingernail scrapings taken from Nauman were able to produce a DNA mixture belonging to an unknown man.
Police in 2016 again began investigating Nauman’s killing and interviewed close to 40 people about the case.
They came across an editorial published in the Daily Gazette about the death of Phyllis Harvey, whose badly decomposed body was found on an upstairs porch on March 17, 1996.
The 37-year-old woman, who also turned to sex work to support her addiction to heroin and alcohol, had been reported missing the year before.
The building’s landlord discovered her with a rope tied around her neck two months after his tenant, Stanislaw Maciag, abandoned the property.
Before Maciag jumped ship, he allegedly told a friend “that he had a dead body on his back porch and it was smelling bad,” Carney said.
At the time, Maciag was on probation for sexually assaulting a woman he promised to drive from Schenectady to Glenville. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 11, 1992 to sex abuse in the first degree and was sentenced to five years’ probation.
Maciag was arrested the day after Harvey’s body was discovered and was charged with violating his probation. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison for failing to report his residence change, while police built a case against him for the murder of Harvey.
On April 7, 1997, Maciag was found dead in his cell. He had hanged himself with a bedsheet.
Before taking his own life, Maciag told a fellow inmate, “I’ve done a lot of bad things and I have to pay,” Carney said.
“Maciag’s death basically ended the investigation into the death of Phyllis Harvey, and unfortunately the evidence in that case was destroyed,” Carney said.
Maciag’s DNA was never entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), but he had surviving blood relatives, who were willing to submit samples for testing.
The results showed they were likely directly related to the unknown man whose DNA was found under Nauman’s nails.
Maciag’s body was exhumed on July 6, 2017. His DNA matched the evidence found under Nauman's nails and inside the left behind sneaker.
His bite was also consistent with the marks left on Nauman.
Gavreau also positively identified him as the man with whom Nauman left.
“[Maciag] took his own life in 1997, thus escaping justice, but after having expressed his guilt for the many bad things he had done and acknowledging he would have to pay,” Carney said.
Maciag immigrated to the United States from Poland and moved to Schenectady in 1986.
Carney said investigators have contacted authorities in Poland, as well as other places in the U.S. that Maciag lived, and are unaware of any other crimes he may have committed.
“I would think that he had a hatred of women or women engaged in prostitution, which seemed that would be the common thread in all of his attacks, but it doesn't sound like he planned them out or made serious plans for how to dispose of the evidence in the case, so the fact that he would have other bodies that haven't been found over the years, it seems unlikely,” Carney said, according to the Times Union.
The closing of the case comes as a bittersweet resolution for those who had long hoped for closure and who know others who would have been happy to see so many questions answered.
Years after he retired, Det. Roy Edwardson met with police about cold cases that officers believed may be solvable.
“When we were done [discussing other cases] he asked us if we would have a minute to discuss another case,” Police Chief Eric Clifford said. “That case was the death of Suzanne Nauman, and he went on to say this case had haunted him ever since he retired, because he had regretted not ever following through on finding who killed her... if we were ever able to solve this case, he wanted to buy her a headstone.”
Edwardson died in a motorcycle crash in June 2014
“They take these cases with them,” State Police Troop G Commander Robert Patnaude said of the men and women in law enforcement. “Even when they retire, they still want to bring the person to justice.”