Genealogy services

A volunteer genealogist student helped solve the nearly 60-year-old murder of a young girl

The kidnapping, rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in a small town in Pennsylvania left a community haunted for decades as the cold case went unsolved, without a single arrest having been made. been carried out, for almost sixty years.

That was until recently, when Pennsylvania State Police announced in February that they had successfully identified the long-dead assailant with the help of a young genealogy expert, who is not was only 18 when he was forcibly engaged two years ago.

State Police confirmed at a press conference that they were able to obtain an accurate match from the killer, James Paul Forte, who they believe was responsible for the kidnapping of Marise Ann Chiverella sometime on along his 10-minute walk to school on March 18, 1964, sexually assaulted and strangled to death.

The little girl, whose parents told authorities at the time of her disappearance that she had left for school early that morning to help deliver canned goods in honor of the feast day at her Catholic school, was discovered later that day by a man driving along the road. near a junkyard that mistook her small size for that of a large doll.

In the 57 years that Chiverella’s case has remained open, more than 230 members of the department have been involved in the investigation at one time or another, amassing more than 4,700 pages in her file without getting any leads. the murderer of the young girl whom family members describe as being shy with aspirations of becoming a nun.

Nine-year-old Marise Ann Chiverella was found in a landfill on March 18, 1964, her abductor and killer having gone unidentified for nearly 60 years.

(Pennsylvania State Police)

That was until 2020, when college freshman Eric Schubert, who had taken up genealogical research primarily as a hobby while studying history at Elizabethtown College (about 80 miles east) outside of Hazleton), read the Pennsylvania case that had died in his tracks.

Mr Schubert had previously helped law enforcement map family trees when searching for suspects and believed his services could be useful in helping find Chiverella’s killer.

“I just thought I’d email them and say, ‘I’d like to help if I’m not stepping on my toes, because I like to think I know what I’m doing,'” said the student from Pennsylvania. People.

After being vetted by the lead cold case investigator, State Police Corporal Mark Baron, the student set to work, sometimes spending up to 20 hours a week, mapping a network of possible suspects for nearly 18 months.

“The investigation that led to all this work was probably the most difficult genealogical task I have ever faced. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Schubert told The Associated Press.

“It re-energized a lot of people and gave us new hope,” said Cpl Baron. People. “Once we got him on board, he didn’t stop.”

Eventually, the 21-year-old took a break from the investigation, considered by the Pennsylvania force to be the oldest case in the state to be solved using genetic genealogy.

Eric Schubert, 21, speaks at the press conference where he and Pennsylvania State Police identified the killer of 9-year-old Marise Ann Chiverella.


With the advent of new DNA technology that was unavailable at the time of Chiverella’s murder, as well as Mr. Schubert’s ability to zero in on a likely suspect drawn from a distant family connection to Forte, the force was able to obtain permission to exhume the dead man’s body to test their theory.

After using a DNA sample taken from the nine-year-old girl’s clothes from the day she disappeared, police were able to establish a positive match with Forte on February 3.

“The odds that the DNA was not his were one in a few septillion,” Schubert told People. “So that’s 24 zeros.”

Writing after the press conference, the 21-year-old expressed his extreme gratitude to the state police for allowing them to play a role in solving the nearly six-decade-old cold case.

“Today was one of the most meaningful days of my life,” Schubert wrote on Twitter. “I announced, with the @PAStatePolice, that we solved the Marise Ann Chiverella homicide cold case. So grateful to have been able to help – Marise’s family now having answers is priceless to me. I will remember her forever.

State police announced their findings at a conference shortly after the positive match was established through the young student’s detective work, with the room packed with current and retired investigators who had worked on the case. , including the soldier who was first assigned to murder Chiverella.

Family members, including the little girl’s four siblings, attended the briefing to find out how the cold case that had remained open for most of their lives was now being put to rest.

“We have so many precious memories of Marise. At the same time, our family will always feel the emptiness and sorrow of her absence,” Carmen Marie Radtke, one of the girl’s sisters, told The Associated Press.

“Thank you to the Pennsylvania State Police who just got served today.”

Parents, however, were never able to get the closure that their children got. They died many years before the case was closed, but their children told reporters at the press conference that they never sought revenge, but justice.

Speaking to The Associated Press after the conference, Cpl Baron noted what an important day it was to be able to bring this case to an end, with Marise’s family there to witness it alongside their community.

“It’s a living memory for anyone who’s been through this, and it’s a living memory for anyone who grew up in this area,” he said. “What happened to him caused a change in this community. Whether you like it or not, the way you lived changed after March 18, 1964 in Hazleton.

This isn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last, that the young geneologist has been approached by local law enforcement for his much sought-after expertise.

Most recently, the volunteer crime solver received a special recognition award for his help in solving the 1982 murder of Lee Rotatori from the Council Bluffs Police Department in Iowa, a case that remained open for nearly 40 years.