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Cold case murder of girl, 9, in 1964 finally solved, police said

Marise Ann Chiverella's murderer was identified by police Thursday as James Paul Forte.

A 57-year-old cold case involving the brutal sexual assault and murder of a 9-year-old girl was solved using genetic genealogy, police in Pennsylvania announced.

Marise Ann Chiverella was killed on March 18, 1964, state police said in a news release on Tuesday. She was taking canned goods to a church on her way to school but never returned to her home in Hazleton.

Her murderer was identified by police Thursday as James Paul Forte. He died in May 1980 from natural causes, possibly a heart attack, police said at a news conference.

“This is a very important day for our department,” said Col. Mark Baron, the lead investigator on the case.

"Even though it took nearly 58 years for this case to be solved, I think this should instill in the families of victims across the state and across the country a sense of hope," he continued, getting emotional. "And that hope is that no matter how long it may take, we as law enforcement will never give up in trying to find the perpetrators of these heinous crimes that go on. God willing, in life or in death you will be found.” 

Baron believes this is the fourth-oldest case to be solved in the country using genetic genealogy.

Image: Marise Ann Chiverella.
Marise Ann Chiverella was killed on March 18, 1964, state police said.Pennsylvania State Police

Family members last saw Marise around 8:10 a.m. on the day she was killed, authorities said at the news conference. Her body was found around 1 p.m. later that day more than two miles away in Hazle Township.

Authorities said Marise had been physically and sexually assaulted and then murdered. The canned goods she was taking to the church were found near her body.

No arrests were made at the time and the case went unsolved.

State police said at the news conference that investigators constantly looked into the murder, and in 2007 they made a small development. A Pennsylvania State Police DNA lab was able to develop a suspect profile based on a DNA sample left on Marise's jacket. The sample was then uploaded to a DNA database and checked monthly against new DNA, officials said.

In 2018, there was a break in the case when the DNA sample was sent to a genealogy database and matched to a very distant relative. At this time, the suspect's identity was still unknown so they began working with Eric Schubert, a Pennsylvania college student and genealogy expert, who put together a family tree based on the DNA.

Over the next several years, police interviewed family members and collected samples. Their efforts helped them narrow down a suspect list to four individuals, one of whom had been arrested in 1974 for an unrelated sexual assault. That person, later identified as Forte, was determined to be the main suspect in Marise's murder, police said.

Forte's remains were exhumed in January, according to police. His DNA matched the sample collected decades ago from Marise's jacket.

At the time of the murder, Forte was in his early 20s. Police said the attack was "random" and they do not believe he knew Marise or her family.

In the decades since the murder, Forte worked at a local bar, police said Thursday. Authorities do not believe he ever got married.

Following his arrest in the 1974 sexual assault, he pled guilty to a lesser charge and received only a year of probation. He was arrested again in 1978 for a minor offense but did not serve any time in jail.

Two of Marise's siblings spoke at the news conference and expressed their gratitude to law enforcement for their work. They described Marise as shy and said she had aspirations of becoming a nun.

"We have so many precious memories of Marise," her sister, Carmen Marie Radtke, said. "At the same time, our family will always feel the emptiness and the sorrow of her absence.”