Police have publicly identified a woman who was found murdered in New York City more than 30 years ago, with the hope of both tracking down her daughter and identifying her killer, authorities announced Tuesday.
Investigators revealed that they identified Christine Belusko of Morris County, New Jersey, nearly two years ago, in April 2021, as the woman who for decades was known only as "the girl with the scorpion tattoo."
Her body was found "brutally beaten, strangled and burned" in a vacant lot on the East Shore of Staten Island in September 1991, Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon told reporters Tuesday.
Found face-up, handcuffed and partly clothed, she was the victim of what McMahon described as a “brutal and depraved murder" that long troubled local law enforcement, who knew little of the victim beyond the distinctive tattoo on her buttocks.
Now, they are revealing her identity hoping to solve another longtime mystery — who killed her? — and track down the daughter they didn't know she had.
Search for a killer continues
Belusko died of more than 17 blows to her head — most likely with a hammer engraved with "Lloyd L" on the handle that was found under her body — and strangulation, said David Nilsen, the chief of detective investigators for the district attorney's office.
She was wearing a dress, sneakers and two gold chains, Nilsen said. Her body had been at the scene — near 777 Seaview Ave. — since at least 6 o’clock the night before her body was found, he added.
Her fingerprints were entered into state and local databases in an attempt to identify her, and sketches of her, her tattoo and her jewelry were shared with the public, Nilsen said.
Authorities chased down any leads they could find about the identity of the victim and her killer but turned up nothing, he said.
Investigators had identified someone with the name on the hammer handle — "Lloyd L" — but there was no indication he was involved, and he could not be prosecuted based on the information authorities had, McMahon said. That person is no longer living, the district attorney added.
The circumstances of Belusko's brutal death suggests her killer knew her, McMahon said.
“There’s absolutely no indication that this was done by anyone other than someone who knew her, given the facts of the case and what transpired and the way she was murdered, and does not seem random but certainly was very brutal," he said.
"There’s no indication at all that this was some sort of serial killer out on the prowl and picked her up. This seemed to be someone who knew her," he added.
Cracking a cold case
In 2008, the district attorney's office revisited the case and submitted Belusko's DNA to CODIS — a federal DNA database used by law enforcement — and sent her dental records to the FBI, Nilsen said. But no new leads turned up at that time.
Alongside the FBI and the New York City Police Department, the district attorney’s office conducted forensic genealogy research and detective work after McMahon decided in 2019 to use the controversial technology to try to solve the case, Nilsen said.
They identified her after they submitted her blood and tissue to a Houston lab in 2019, zeroing in on possible DNA matches in New York and New Jersey and obtaining a DNA swab from her biological brother, The New York Times reported.
Belusko had been put up for adoption by a New Jersey woman with eight other children; after she learned she was adopted, she drifted apart from her adopted family members, and none of them knew she had been murdered, according to the Times.
At the news conference, McMahon said it was decided to use forensic genealogy — which has helped solve several similar decades-old cold cases — after “every other methodology had been tried.”
“If we can use genealogy to get tips to other facts that help us close out a case, I see no ethical problem,” he said, adding that authorities would not pursue a conviction based on genealogical records alone.
Investigation turns up a daughter
After having finally identified Belusko in 2021, authorities informed her family members, including her brother, whom they interviewed in June 2021, Nilsen said. (It is not clear whether he is the same brother who provided the DNA swab.) The brother told investigators Belusko had a daughter, Christa Nicole, who was born Aug. 1, 1989, meaning she was a little over 2 years old at the time of her mother's death.
Detectives have searched records for missing children or children found dead at that time, but none have proved to be connected to the case, McMahon said.
Investigators do not know the father of Belusko's daughter or where the girl was at the time of her mother's death, authorities said.
Authorities hope to track down the daughter, who should be 33 years old and was born at the now-closed Barnert Memorial Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey.
At the news conference Tuesday, authorities showed an age progression image of what she might look like today.
The district attorney's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for the photo.
Authorities also shared more information about Belusko: Her last known address was in Clifton, New Jersey, where she lived until late July 1991, investigators said, adding that she had been staying in Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos.
She had worked in a clothing store — Rainbow Shops — in New Jersey and was wearing clothing from there when she died.
Investigators are still looking into why she was on Staten Island when she died.
For now, they hope someone in the public knows something about who killed Belusko or where her daughter might be, they said.
"We have pretty much run down all the leads we can in trying to locate the individuals who would know Christa Nicole and any other leads that may help us in solving the underlying crime," McMahon said.