1971 Cold Case Killing of Teacher Is Solved After DNA From Cigarette Butt Is Matched to Suspect, Cops Say

Rita Curran (24 years of age)
Vermont State Police

Curran was murdered in her apartment’s bedroom on July 19, 1971, police said. Authorities are confident that William Deroos was the murderer.

The 52-year-old cold case killing of a Vermont teacher has finally come to a close after authorities were able to match DNA to a suspect from a cigarette butt left on the scene.

Burlington Police in Vermont held a press conference Tuesday to announce the closure of the investigation into Rita Curran’s murder

Curran, a 24-year-old school teacher, was found slain in the bedroom of her apartment on July 19, 1971, police said. Police say her murderer was William Deroos, who was 31 years old and lived two floors above Curran at the time of her murder.

The case was cold until it was reopened in 2014, when the lead investigator on the case decided to submit a cigarette butt found at the scene of Curran's killing to be processed for DNA, according to police.

No matches came back when the DNA profile was run through a system of previously convicted felons, but police were able to determine the cigarette butt had been used by a man, police said. 

Years later, under a different lead investigator, police reached out to genealogists to use open source DNA databases, such as 23andMe, to try to identify who smoked the cigarette left at the scene of Curran's killing, police said.

This allowed authorities to match the DNA extracted from the cigarette butt to Deroos, according to police. With the evidence from the cigarette butt, additional supporting DNA evidence, and Deroos' history of random acts of violence, police say they confidently believe Deroos was Curran's murderer. 

Police initially met Deroos on July 20, 1971, the day after Curran's murder. Investigators asked him and his wife if they had heard anything the night prior when Curran was murdered. They both said they hadn’t and that they had been in their apartment the whole night, police said.

Decades later Deroos' wife, Michelle, told police that they lied that day. She then told them that on the night Curran was murdered, she and her husband got into an argument and he left the apartment to "cool off."

When Deroos returned to the apartment, Michelle was already asleep. She awoke to police at her door, police said. After the police left, Deroos told her that if they ever come back and ask her about that night, she was to lie and say he never left, Michelle told cops.

Deroos told Michelle to lie because he feared police would think he was a suspect due to his criminal history, according to police. 

Following the murder, Deroos abandoned all the plans he and his wife made for their future, divorced his wife and moved to Taiwan, where he became a Buddhist monk, according to police. He later moved to San Francisco, where in 1986, he was found dead in a hotel room from a morphine overdose, police said. 

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