50 year old case solved involving American murderer who became a monk in Thailand

Murdered teacher Rita Curran, photo via Burlington Police Twitter.

American authorities have finally solved a case from 50 years ago involving an American man who murdered a teacher, before moving to Thailand to become a monk.

Authorities in the eastern state of Vermont solved the case thanks to a discarded cigarette butt. The case involved the killing of Rita Curran, a 24 year old teacher who was strangled to death in her apartment on July 19, 1971.

A day after the incident, police had interviewed a couple who lived two floors above Curran, a man named William DeRoos, and his wife Michelle DeRoos. The two provided an alibi, saying they’d been home the night of the killing and didn’t hear or see anything, according to the commander of Burlington Police’s detective services bureau, Jim Trieb.

The case went cold, as the police department’s investigators were unable to identify any suspect.

However, in 2014, a cigarette butt that was discovered near Curran’s right arm was submitted for DNA processing. Despite finding a male DNA profile, the investigators could not find any matches in the country’s law enforcement repository for genetic material, Trieb said.

To solve the case, the investigators worked with Parabon NanoLabs, a genetic genealogy firm that combines historical research with genetic analysis to identify potential suspects. The company’s chief genetic genealogist said that using a publicly available database, they were able to narrow the list of potential suspects to William DeRoos.

DeRoos was never considered a suspect at the time of the killing, but detectives interviewed his former wife Michelle again. According to Michelle, she and DeRoos had gotten into a fight on the night of the killing, and he had left. He returned after she had gone to sleep and later told her to tell authorities they had been home all night.

After the killing, DeRoos left his wife and moved to Thailand to become a Buddhist monk. He returned to the US in 1974, living in San Francisco, where he married another woman who said she knew him as a guru named Dutch. She told authorities that he was violent and had even stabbed her friend in an unprovoked assault, NBC News reported. The woman ended up leaving DeRoos.

DeRoos died of a drug overdose in a San Francisco hotel in 1989, and while no charges will be filed, the investigation found probable cause that DeRoos committed the murder.

Curran’s brother has waited 50 years for justice. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Curran’s brother said, “I pray to my parents, and I pray to Rita.”

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Tara Abhasakun

A Thai-American dual citizen, Tara has reported news and spoken on a number of human rights and cultural news issues in Thailand. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history from The College of Wooster. She interned at Southeast Asia Globe, and has written for a number of outlets. Tara reports on a range of Thailand news issues.