It was around 7:30 p.m. on the night of July 19, 1971, and Paul Robinson was waiting outside his girlfriend Kerri Duane’s workplace to pick her up after her shift. It was a Monday night, but still early so after stopping back into their apartment to change clothes, they headed off to the quirky Harbor Hideaway restaurant to grab a bite to eat.
Around 11:15 p.m. Paul and Kerri were still enjoying themselves at the bar and decided to invite their other roommates, Rita Curran and Beverly Lanpher, out for a drink. Paul called back to their apartment and Beverly picked up. Rita was asleep in the bedroom that she and Beverly shared, so Beverly went off to meet her two other roommates for a night cap without Rita.
By 12:30 a.m. Paul was ready to call it a night, and so he and Kerri paid their tab and headed for home. Beverly decided to linger at the bar a bit longer.
When Paul and Kerri got back to their apartment, they noticed that Rita’s door was open just a bit, but they didn’t hear their roommate up and about. They stayed up for a while longer, waiting for Beverly to get home and then three of them sat in the living room chatting before calling it a night. Kerri and Paul went to their bedroom, while Beverly headed to the room she shared with Rita.
Before Kerri and Paul even settled into bed, they heard Beverly say from across the hall, “Something is wrong with Rita.”
Those words began a homicide investigation that would become Vermont’s oldest and coldest case… Until 2023, when a renewed investigation and advancements in DNA technology finally closed the case of 24-year old Rita Curran.
About Rita Curran
24-year-old Rita Curran was born in Brooklyn, New York to her parents Thomas and Mary Curran on June 21, 1947. She was one of three children, her brother and sister also named Thomas and Mary. The Curran family later moved to Burlington, where Rita attended Mount St. Mary’s Academy, a private Catholic girls’ school.
According to The Vermont Standard, the Curran’s were a well-known family. Rita’s father worked at the IBM facility in Burlington, and he and his wife also owned a diner and rental cabins on Arrowhead Mountain Lake.
After earning her degree at Trinity College in 1969, she became a second grade teacher at Milton Elementary School. During the summertime though, Rita took classes at the University of Vermont and worked part-time as a chambermaid at the Colonial Motor Inn.
Rita moved out of her parent’s house and into her first apartment soon after her 24th birthday in 1971. She’d lived at home her entire life up until that point. She started perusing the classified ads in the Burlington Free Press newspaper and found an ad looking for a temporary roommate for the summer.
Rita’s sister Mary told ABC22 in 2021 that the apartment seemed to be a good fit. She’d be sharing a room with another girl, and a third woman had the second bedroom in the apartment. Though some media sources at the time say those were the only three people who lived in the apartment, investigative documents state there was a man also living in the unit who shared the second bedroom with one of the girls. They were described as a couple in a 2023 supplementary report by the Burlington Police Department.
Bill Porter reported for the Rutland Daily Herald in 1971 that Rita didn’t know her roommates prior to moving in with them and they hadn’t become close friends in the short few weeks she lived there. She was typically a shy person, and still spent most of her free time with her family and hometown friends back in Milton, about 25 minutes away.
When she wasn’t working or studying, Rita love singing and was part of several choirs and quartets throughout the years. Rita was part of a barbershop quartet in Burlington and had practice with the group earlier in the night on July 19, 1971. After practice, she went home, put her hair up in curlers and changed into her pajamas and housecoat, ready to settle into bed. Sometime after she fell asleep, after her roommate left to join the others at a bar, Rita Curran was attacked.
The Burlington Fire Department’s ambulance crew was first to respond to the call at 17 Brookes Avenue in Burlington, along with Officer Richard Garrow of the Burlington Police Department. The two ambulance crew members told the officer that the woman inside was deceased. Garrow called for backup. It was about to be a long night.
In Garrow’s report, he stated that he found the body of 24-year old Rita Curran nude and lying on her back with her clothes between her legs. Her face was swollen and bloodied. He quickly secured the room and awaited the arrival of detectives who would process the scene. He’d stand guard at the room for hours as three detectives from the Burlington Police Department began the initial investigation.
Numerous items in Rita and Beverly’s bedroom were collected and bagged as evidence, including hairs clutched in Rita’s hands, fingernail scrapings, Rita’s torn nightgown and housecoat, the bed sheets and bedspread, and hair curlers, among other items found at the scene that had hair, blood, and biological matter on them.
As detectives and the medical examiner were analyzing the scene and marking the outline of Rita’s body on the floor, they found a cigarette butt laying underneath Rita’s elbow. It was a LARK charcoal filter tip cigarette. It looked as if the cigarette had burned out there at the scene, and hadn’t been crushed, stomped, or butted out in any way. Detectives noted that ash from the cigarette was found on the floor between her body and her right arm. That cigarette butt was collected and bagged as evidence.
It was obvious to the detectives that whatever happened to Rita, whoever did this to her, was not met without a fight. Rita’s hair curlers which she was known to wear to bed were strewn about the room. The curtains had been torn from the rods and her bed was pushed away from the wall. Though petite and just over 100 pounds, Rita challenged her attacker and fought for her life.
The area surrounding the house was examined for any clues as to where the perpetrator entered and if by force. The driveway, which had a sandy section, didn’t show any noticeable footprints. According to the report by Detective Richard Beaulieu, it appeared that no one had walked on that section of the driveway since the rain storm the day prior. The grass in the yard, though long and wet, didn’t show any tracks or trampled areas where someone might have stepped.
While they were surveying the outside of the building, detectives found that a window to the apartment near the front door was unlocked, but it was pretty difficult to open.
Detectives also inspected what they called a shed. Based on the description of its placement and a photo I found in a 1971 newspaper clipping, I don’t think it’s referring to a freestanding structure on the property, but rather an enclosed vestibule off the back door of the house.
Inside this shed area was a trash can, tipped over and the contents strewn over the floor. There was another empty trash can in the shed that was bent in the middle. One detective noted that it looked like someone had stepped on it. Detective Lieutenant Richard Beaulieu noted the trash cans in his report, though he also wrote that the value of the trash cans as it related to the investigation was unknown at the time.
As Beaulieu turned back into the house, he could see that the door between the kitchen and the shed had blood on it in two places.
The roommates went with detectives back to police headquarters to be interviewed and provide signed statements about the events of that night. Their stories were the same as the preliminary statements they’d given to the first officer on the scene.
One of the roommates, Paul, returned to the apartment building around 6:45 a.m. after giving his statement. He wanted to talk to the detectives still on the scene. Detectives used the opportunity to ask Paul a few more questions, particularly about the trash cans in the shed area. Paul told them that he’d actually used one of the trash cans to prop open the storm door of their apartment the night before. Detectives asked him why he would do that, why leave the door propped open, and he said he didn’t know why and gave no reason for it.
Paul went on to explain that their apartment was never locked – not the front or back doors. The apartment was just always open. A chain lock was dangling off the front door. Detectives asked Paul why the lock was broken, and he said it had been that way for a while. They never used it.
Lt. Beaulieu had a few more questions for Paul. He wanted to know who in the apartment was a smoker and what brand of cigarettes they smoked. Paul told the detectives that as far as he knew Rita and her roommate Beverly didn’t smoke. Paul and Kerri however, did smoke – usually Salem, Benson & Hedges, and occasionally Winston’s. The detective doubled down on the cigarette topic, wanting Paul to be certain that Rita and Beverly didn’t smoke. Paul was sure of it. He’d never seen either of the girls smoking a cigarette.
Based on the multiple reports from multiple officers, detectives and technicians at the scene, it seems they made careful and thorough work of processing the bedroom and collecting evidence. A detective collected a soil sample from the basement to compare it to dirt found in Rita’s bedroom. They removed a section of the door that contained a large spot of blood, as well as a section of linoleum flooring. The floor in the bedroom where Rita was found was processed for latent fingerprints. The FBI was brought into the investigation early on to assist in processing the evidence.
Local investigators hoped thorough analysis and testing of the evidence would tell them something, point them in the right direction of the suspect responsible for one of the most horrific scenes they’d encountered in their careers.
Witnesses, too, would be crucial in learning more about what happened inside that bedroom. Officer Garrow was released from his guard duties at the bedroom door around 7 a.m. on July 20, and then began conducting a canvass of the other units in the building. He stated in his report that no one answered the door of the second floor unit, however, the third floor tenants were home and spoke briefly to the officer.
William DeRoos and his wife, Michele DeRoos told Officer Garrow that they didn’t hear anything unusual overnight. Mrs. DeRoos had been awake at 1 a.m. and assured the officer that she didn’t hear or notice anything of concern.
Chief Medical Examiner Lawrence Harris performed Rita Curran’s autopsy. Dr. Harris found that Rita Curran’s cause of death was asphyxia by manual strangulation. She’d been severely beaten and sexually assaulted. The manner of death was labeled a homicide. Given the timeline of Rita’s roommates leaving and returning to the house, it was estimated that she was killed between 11:20 p.m. on July 19 and 12:30 a.m. on July 20th, a mere 70 minute window.
As detectives worked to develop a victimology for Rita Curran, that narrow time frame would become an important consideration in the investigation.
Leads and Victimology
Proximity to the crime scene was considered a key part of Rita Curran’s victimology. With just over an hour for the perpetrator to determine if anyone was home inside the apartment, gain entry to the apartment, attack and kill Rita, then leave undetected, it was likely the suspect was familiar with the house, it’s occupants, and didn’t have to travel far to commit the murder.
Detectives returned to the apartment building and immediate neighborhood several times to speak with residents about what they may have seen or heard on the night of July 19. Three days after the homicide, a Vermont State Trooper knocked on the second and third floor apartment doors of Rita’s building again. The second floor tenants were home this time, but the four women weren’t able to provide any information of value to the investigation.
William DeRoos and his wife, Michelle, were home on the third floor as the officer knocked on their door for a second time to ask for any details about the night Rita was killed just two floors below them, but again, the husband and wife said they were both home and didn’t hear or see anything.
The investigation continued around the clock as the Burlington PD dedicated as much manpower as possible to find the person responsible for the attack.
The community was reeling at the viciousness and apparent randomness of it all. Brookes Avenue was an otherwise quiet area, adjacent to the UVM campus. But the illusion of safety in Burlington dissipated with Rita’s murder. Nerves were set on edge. The Bennington Banner reported that Police were fielding a wave of reports of prowlers and peeping toms, all that had occurred in the weeks leading up to Rita’s murder but had initially gone unreported.
Stuart Perry reported for the Burlington Free Press that female tenants in an apartment on Loomis Street, just one block from Brookes Avenue, reported receiving strange phone calls in the early hours of the morning that summer. When they answered, it was just silence. And then the caller hung up. Those same women on Loomis Street caught a man trying to open their front door late one night. When one of the women checked to see who was there, cracking the door as far as the chain lock would allow, the man took off, jumping over a porch railing and running through the back yard. It was unclear at the time if these incidents, though apparently frequent judging by the number of delayed reports that came in, had anything to do with Rita Curran’s murder.
Over a hundred people were interrogated as part of the initial investigation, at least of them submitting to polygraph tests as investigators developed a suspect list. The list had over a dozen names on it in 1971. In a 2023 supplemental report by Detective Lieutenant Trieb, he explains that this list was compiled based on circumstantial facts, such as suspicious behavior, close proximity to the crime scene, tips, and other information, but those suspects did not develop into any real progress in the case.
Rita Curran was laid to rest on Friday, July 24, 1971 at St. Anne’s Cemetery following a Catholic funeral and mass at St. Anne’s Church in her hometown of Milton, Vermont. Eric Loring reported for the Burlington Free Press that nearly 300 people attended the service, including several plainclothes police officers.
The date of her funeral was also the day that State’s Attorney Patrick Leahy, now U.S. Senator Leahy, announced a blackout on any further news relating to Rita Curran’s murder. Unless new information was cleared through his office or Burlington Chief of Detectives Richard Beaulieu, it wouldn’t be released to the public. “We have developed some new and encouraging leads, but I can’t say any more than that. It will be handled in secrecy.”
The blackout was a move that disappointed Rita’s family. Her sister, Mary, told ABC22 in 2021, “I don’t know why there was a blackout, but it was disappointing as a family to not have her in the news every day.”
With that media blackout, little was reported to the public or even the family throughout the years. The media attention that did come in the year after Rita’s killing was empty of any real details. A headline in the Burlington Free Press stated, “Nothing new in murder case”. Other articles grasped at any nebulous story starters that floated their way. Lt. Beaulieu confirmed in the same publication that in August of 1971, they were in touch with authorities in Yarmouth, Massachusetts who had apprehended a drifter named Charles Manning who had admitted to killing 19 women, but it was unknown if Manning had been in Burlington around the time of Rita’s murder.
A sexual assault of a woman living on Greene Street, less than a mile away from Brookes Avenue, in the months following was investigated for any connection to Rita’s case, but police found no evidence the same perpetrator was responsible. An attack of another UVM student while she slept in her bed was also assessed for connections to Rita’s murder, but again, police found none.
The year of 1971 would come to a close without answers for Rita Curran and her family. A $3000 Secret Witness reward was announced in the Burlington Free Press. Several more reminders of that reward were printed in 1972, but the one year anniversary of Rita Curran’s murder would come and go without any public progress in the case.
Over 50 anniversaries of her death would come and go. Rita’s father Tomas passed away in 1991, and her mother in 2002, not knowing who stole their daughter’s life. Though her siblings and other family members stayed hopeful decade after decade, staying what they called “Curran Strong” for one another, and for Rita, by year 50 in 2021, that hope had expired.
On the 50th anniversary of Rita’s murder, her siblings gave a statement to reporter Liz Murray of the Burlington Free Press. It read, “Fifty years is a long time to grieve, a long time to hope. The fifty-year mark confirms that a resolution in our lifetime to Rita’s murder is not going to happen. As a family, in our prayers, we will never give up our deepest private hope. Rita’s story has a home in our family legacy forever. We recognize that over time, memories fade, evidence ages, the perpetrator may be dead, interest in this story wanes. For fifty years, the Burlington Police Department has worked every lead they have ever received and have been very compassionate to our family. We know Rita’s death did not happen in a vacuum. Somebody somewhere knows what happened that night on July 19, 1971 and they will take that information to their grave. May God have mercy on their soul.”
50 years is a long time. The detectives, the State’s Attorney, all the investigators who worked the case in the 70s had either moved on or passed away, and memories of witnesses had undoubtedly faded in the half-century since Rita Curren’s life was so brutally ended.
But a crucial part of the case did not fade. The evidence, so meticulously collected and carefully stored all those years, sat waiting until a day that modern scientific methods could reveal who had been in Rita’s room that night.
In 2019, the Burlington Police Department’s Detective Service Bureau reactivated the unsolved cold case of Rita Curran. Detective Bureau Commander Lieutenant J.T. Trieb was prepared to take a new approach for the long-standing homicide case. As he states in his 2023 supplemental report, he would treat the time crime like it had just been committed.
Detective Trieb pored over the case files, reviewed the existing evidence, studied the victimology, and along with his team, which included all detectives and both ID techs, established a new path forward for Rita Curran’s case, with over 50 years in forensic science advancements to help. The primary focus of the renewed investigation would be the forensic evidence, as minimal testing had been conducted with it throughout the years.
The team was hopeful that new DNA testing and genealogy research would yield a suspect in this case and give Rita Curran’s surviving family, whose hope at all but run out, a real chance at answers in their lifetimes.
DNA Testing, 2014
The renewed investigation began with surveying what had already been done in the preceding years. As is revealed in Trieb’s report, the case wasn’t entirely inactive.
In 2014, Detective Jeff Beerworth was working Rita Curran’s case and he had identified pieces of evidence that could potentially yield DNA information that would have previously been difficult or impossible to extract in earlier decades of the investigation.
Detective Beerworth had to look outside the state of Vermont for the advanced DNA extraction and testing necessary to develop a profile from the evidence. On September 19, 2014, he FedExed the cigarette butt, nail scrapings and slides containing vaginal swabs to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for DNA testing.
The LARK cigarette butt found underneath her right elbow was of particular interest. Two of Rita’s roommates smoked, but not that brand, so it was likely that someone other than the residents of the household had smoked that cigarette and dropped or somehow left it in the center of the crime scene, hopefully with extractable DNA still on it. And the New York City OCME was able to obtain a male DNA profile.
The male DNA profile pulled from the LARK cigarette butt was enough to compare to a number of suspects on the list through either direct comparison, CODIS exclusion, or familial comparison. At least 13 suspects were excluded by comparison to the DNA on the cigarette butt. The DNA from the cigarette butt was also compared to the first responders, officers, and detectives who were on the scene, as well as Rita’s roommate, Paul. All were excluded.
The DNA profile from the cigarette butt was entered into CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, but at the time there was no match, meaning that the potential suspect had never been convicted of felony before or since Rita was murdered or that his profile had not been entered into the database as of 2014.
In 2016, police in Vermont heard back from the NYC Chief Medical Examiner’s office regarding the other items of evidence that were sent two years prior for testing. The fingernail scrapings and vaginal slides did not yield enough DNA.
DNA Testing, 2022
In addition to the cigarette butt found at the scene and other evidence tested by the NYC OCME, there were other items of evidence that could potentially provide DNA evidence in the case, like Rita’s clothing and bedding as well as the sections of wood pulled from the doors that had blood on them. Developing DNA profiles from additional items would be costly, and so detectives were careful to choose items that were more likely to produce usable DNA profiles.
They decided to send the drawstrings of Rita’s housecoat and the housecoat itself, a piece of linoleum flooring with a blood smear, underwear, two pieces of wood with blood on them, and part of Rita’s nightgown. The evidence was hand delivered to a lab in Florida that worked with new DNA extraction techniques like the M-VAC. As the abbreviated name hints, the simplified description of M-VAC is basically a vacuum that extracts DNA.
The cigarette butt remained particularly important to the detectives as it had already provided a usable DNA profile, but with no hit in CODIS, they decided to move onto methods of familial comparison. It’s a technique that has received tons of attention in recent years – both positive and critical – and has been responsible for identifying suspects in several high profile cases across the country.
According to the Department of Justice Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, familial DNA searching can be utilized when a routine search of a DNA database reveals that no qualifying person’s profile matches that of the unknown perpetrator. With that same DNA profile, it is possible to conduct an independent search to identify potential relatives of the alleged perpetrator.
The Department of Justice also makes mention of the privacy issues associated with this type of DNA analysis, but notes that the familial search results are only an investigative tool to develop leads. Direct from the DOJ’s paper titled An Introduction to Familial DNA Searching: A familial DNA search result is only a lead that is then followed up and investigated until a DNA sample of the suspect is obtained and tested. It is those results—those of the suspect—that are generally used in court, not the familial DNA match.
Detective Trieb and his team researched several labs and ultimately decided to contract with Parabon Nanolabs in Virginia to sequence the DNA from the cigarette butt.
In 2022, the DNA was sent to Parabon Nanolabs for sequencing, and that information was submitted to Family Tree DNA and GED Match. Family Tree DNA is a consumer genetic genealogy product that allows you to swab your cheek and submit your collection kit for analysis to learn more about your genealogy and ancestors. On Family Tree DNA’s website, they assure customers that privacy is of the utmost importance. “You choose how your genetic information is used and shared with others…We do not share your name or other common identifying information linked to your genetic data with third parties, except as legally required to comply with a valid subpoena or a court order or with your explicit consent.”
GED Match is a free genetic genealogy research tool where you can upload your results from a number of genetic genealogy sites like 23andme, Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and more, to conduct deeper family tree research. It’s also, as in the case of Rita Curran, a tool for law enforcement to conduct their own familial DNA analysis. Users who select “public opt-in” on GED Match, will have their DNA kit compared with kits submitted by law enforcement to identify perpetrators of violent crimes.
Parabon Nanolab’s Chief Genetic Genealogist, CeCe Moore, performed the genealogy research for Rita’s case. The suspect list developed over the last 5 decades of the investigation was shared with CeCe as she began her analysis. Several new names were added to that list before it got to CeCe, as the renewed investigation had introduced previously unknown names to the suspect pool.
Among the new names was William DeRoos, one of the upstairs tenants in the Brookes Avenue building. Lieutenant Trieb felt that his proximity to the crime scene was a compelling reason to add him to the list, and his name had also appeared in several reports in the original case file, as police had spoken to DeRoos during multiple canvassings of the neighborhood.
Trieb wrote in his 2023 report that he felt very strongly that the person responsible for Rita’s death would’ve lived in close proximity to her, given the narrow timeframe for the attack. Though DeRoos was never considered a person of interest or suspect in 1971, he was added to the suspect pool in 2019.
With a suspect list in hand, CeCe Moore began her careful research and comparison using the genealogy databases. And it didn’t take long for her to identify a suspect from that list as a possible contributor of the DNA on the LARK cigarette butt.
From CeCe Moore’s genealogy report:
It is Parabon’s hypothesis that the Subject is highly likely to be William Richard DeRoos… William should be strongly considered as a candidate to be the Subject based on the fact that genealogical connections were found to all five of the Subject’s top genetic matches, through both the maternal and paternal sides of his family tree and three of his grandparents’ ancestral lines. Further, documentation was discovered that he resided in the same building as the victim at the time of the crime.
Cece Moore also learned in her research that William DeRoos was dead.
The information was monumental in a case that had sat cold for decades. A suspect who lived two floors up, a suspect whose DNA was found at the center of the crime scene, was identified thanks to familial DNA comparison. But it was only the start.
As the Department of Justice noted in their paper about familial DNA, results drawn from this kind of analysis are leads, not evidence of guilt. Investigators still needed to independently compare the DNA from the cigarette butt directly to William DeRoos or a family member as close to him as possible. According to Detective Trieb’s report, DeRoos died in San Francisco, California of an acute morphine poisoning, an overdose, in 1986. He was cremated, meaning no biological evidence was available for DNA testing. So a close family member was the next best opportunity to confirm what the familial DNA analysis had uncovered.
Plus, you’ll remember that William DeRoos and his wife spoke to detectives several times during the initial investigation, and each time they said they were both in their apartment, giving each other an alibi for the brief window when Rita was home alone, asleep in her bed. Could they break apart this alibi almost fifty years later?
Detective Trieb and his team formulated their next steps. They planned to follow up on the testing performed on other pieces of evidence from the scene, collect a DNA sample from a living relative of William DeRoos, track down William DeRoos’s wife at the time of the murder, Michelle, and well as interview another of his previous wives, and re-interview Rita’s former roommates who were living in that Brookes Avenue apartment when she was killed.
The investigation pressed onward in 2022 with a vigor that it really hadn’t seen since the earliest days after her murder in 1971.
Other Evidence Sent for Testing
The investigation was still awaiting results on the other evidence sent for analysis, and these items were certainly not neglected in the renewed investigation. At the time that DNA Labs International was processing the additional evidence, the technicians were not notified that familial DNA comparison had found the possible identity of the DNA contributor on the cigarette butt.
DNA Labs International found that the square of linoleum contained blood from at least one female contributor. Rita could not be ruled out as a contributor of that blood but the DNA contributor from the cigarette butt, referred to as UNKNOWN#1, could be excluded as a contributor of that blood. The blood on the sections of wood cut from the back door of the apartment was more than likely Rita’s, too.
UNKNOWN contributor #1 could not be ruled out as the same contributor of the DNA on Rita’s housecoat. The DNA profile on Rita’s underwear was found to be a mixture of at least two individuals, with the DNA from UNKNOWN#1 unable to be ruled out as a contributor.
These results are significant because with DNA from UNKNOWN#1 not only on the cigarette, but also on the articles of clothing that had been ripped from Rita’s body during the attack, it meant that more than likely the cigarette was not a red herring that was just coincidentally dropped into the crime scene without being of any real value to the case. William DeRoos had his DNA all over that cigarette butt, and his DNA couldn’t be excluded from Rita’s housecoat or underwear. It was looking more and more likely that he was the one to carry out the heinous crime.
Collecting DNA from Half Brother
As part of confirming the familial DNA results, detectives needed to collect a sample from the closest living relative of William DeRoos possible for direct DNA comparison. Detective Chenette of the Burlington Police Department located DeRoos’s half-brother. Though his name is public in other sources, I won’t use his real name. I’ll refer to him as Andy.
Andy was very helpful in assisting detectives with the investigation and volunteered his DNA sample to compare to William DeRoos. The sample was sent off for comparison to the profile found on the LARK cigarette butt. The results read:
The relative probability that [Andy] is related to UNKNOWN#1 as a half-sibling is 97.03 % in the general population. These results support the conclusion that [Andy] and UNKNOWN#1 are half-siblings.
Step 1: Independently compare the DNA profile found on the cigarette butt at the center of the crime scene to confirm the identity of the suspect, William DeRoos. Check.
Interview with Michelle (Roach) DeRoos
The next phase of the renewed investigation involved interviewing William DeRoos’s wife at the time of the murder, Michelle Roach. She has since changed her first and last name, but I’ll refer to her as Michelle. Michelle and William both spoke to police on more than one occasion during the initial investigation, telling detectives that they were home during the estimated time of the attack and they heard nothing. They provided an alibi for one another. But 50 years later… Detectives learned this wasn’t the whole truth.
Burlington detectives Chenette and Tremblay traveled to Oregon to meet with Michelle and interview her about the events of July 19th and 20th, 1971, and to learn more about her former husband.
Michelle and William, who she called Bill, met in San Francisco sometime in 1970. They were both into what she referred to as “the Buddhist scene”. They started dating and moved in together in California, but despite their relationship, she’d never met any of his family. All she knew was that Bill was one of seven boys and his mother liked to ride horses. Although her memory was fuzzy about a lot of the finer details of that time in her life, she did remember that Bill had served time in prison twice while in California, once for Armed Robbery.
Michelle and Bill broke up sometime before 1971, though she couldn’t remember why. She told the detectives that she never feared Bill and he was never physically abusive in their relationship. Bill was a “serious Buddhist”.
After their breakup, Michelle ended up moving to Burlington and into her parent’s house in the spring of 1971, leaving Bill DeRoos behind in California. But a few months later, Bill showed up unannounced. Their relationship rekindled despite her parent’s disapproval. They weren’t a fan of the guy. When Michelle’s parents relocated to British Columbia, she and William moved in together again, this time to a third floor apartment on Brookes Avenue in Burlington, Vermont.
They got married on July 5, 1971, just over two weeks before Rita Curran was violently attacked and murdered two floors below their own apartment.
The detectives showed Michelle photos of Rita Curran. She remarked that Rita was beautiful, but she didn’t recognize her. She didn’t remember ever socializing with any of the other tenants in the apartment building on Brookes Avenue, or whether they’d formally met.
But Michelle did remember being woken up by a knock on the door on July 20, 1971. A police officer told her that someone had been hurt pretty bad. She didn’t recall the rest of the conversation with police, but she did remember what her then-husband said to her after the officer left. William told Michelle not to mention that he hadn’t been home during the estimated time of the murder. His reasoning was that he had a criminal record and he didn’t want police to try and pin the crime on him.
But William was, in fact, not home during that narrow 70 minute window that Rita Curran was assumed to have been attacked and killed. Michelle told detectives those 50-plus years after the fact, that she and her husband of two weeks got into a “quarrel” and he went for a “cool down walk”. Michelle didn’t know how long he was gone or when he came back. She didn’t remember if when he came back he had any scratches or injuries, she couldn’t recall what he wore or if he did laundry that night or if the articles of clothing he wore disappeared soon after. Michelle couldn’t remember what kind of cigarettes William smoked, but she remembered that he did smoke.
She assured detectives in that 2022 interview that if she had any suspicion that her husband was responsible for Rita’s death, she would have “quietly gone to police”. Michelle said she never directly asked William DeRoos if he killed Rita Curran, but the thought of him committing such a brutal act was “inconceivable”.
Soon after Rita Curran’s murder, William DeRoos moved to Thailand without Michelle. Detectives asked her why she didn’t go, too, seeing as they were married, and she was confused by that detail, too. She thought maybe they only had enough money for one of them to move to Thailand at that point, but she did eventually join him there in March of 1972.
William was a Buddhist monk at the time, but was then disrobed, losing his status as a monk. They traveled around Thailand together for sometime before William became a monk again, and she became a nun. Given these circumstances, their marriage dissolved. It would’ve been against the rules to have a relationship. Michelle stayed in Thailand for about a year and a half, and William had moved to another country, but she couldn’t remember which one.
The last time she had any contact with her then-husband was just before she moved out of Thailand. William asked her for money to fund his next trip out of Thailand, but she refused. She never saw William again, and even had to go through a lawyer to get an official divorce without William’s signature on the paperwork.
Michelle was emotional as the interview with Detectives Chenette and Tremblay continued on. She couldn’t fathom what reason William had to commit such a crime, “We had no relations with those people. Why would he do that? Never asked for a cup of sugar, nothing.”
Interview with Third Wife & Roommates
Detectives were also able to track down William DeRoos’s third wife, a woman named Sarah, and she gave investigators the feeling that it wasn’t so “inconceivable” as Michelle had said, that William could commit such a violent attack. From the 2023 supplemental report of Rita’s case:
Though Michelle DeRoos stated that William had never been violent with her, Sarah was able to establish that he did have a propensity for violence, describing two incidents at which she was present. The first was an unprovoked incident where William stabbed a friend of theirs for no apparent reason. Sarah believed that William was arrested for this incident, but we are still trying to confirm and are finding it difficult owing to the date of this incident (possibly in 1974). Sarah also stated that on one occasion William had strangled her to the point she nearly lost consciousness and again this was unprovoked.
There was one last interview for detectives to complete before they felt confident in their conclusion about who was responsible for Rita Curran’s death. Two of Rita’s roommates in the Brookes Avenue apartment were still alive. Detectives wanted to hear from them if the man who lived on the third floor would’ve had any reason at all to be in Rita’s bedroom. It was crucial they eliminate any lingering doubt about William’s presence in that apartment in the earliest hours of July 20, 1971.
Again from the supplemental report: Statements from Rita’s roommates, Paul and Kerry…established that William had no reason to be present in Rita’s apartment, let alone in her bedroom, as they did not know each other.
Closing the Case
The renewed investigation – the DNA analysis, the interviews, and all the work of present day detectives – built off the original efforts of investigators in 1971. Although it took half a century, Rita Curran’s case could finally, officially be closed. The 2023 supplemental report concluded by stating that the Detective Service Bureau was unanimously certain that the sole perpetrator of Rita Curran’s murder was William DeRoos.
Detectives contacted Rita’s surviving family members, her brother Thomas Jr. and sister, Mary, to deliver the news. They all met up in February 2023 for lunch. It was the first time they could finally ask any question they wanted, and actually get answers from investigators. Once Thomas and Mary knew the entire story, Burlington Police went public, announcing at a press conference on February 21, 2023 that Vermont’s oldest cold case was finally solved.
Episode Source Material
- Supplementary Investigation Report: Rita Curran Murder, Lieutenant J. T. Trieb, Burlington Police Department
- An Introduction to Familial DNA Searching, Department of Justice, August 2016
- Burlington Police Department Press Conference, February 21, 2023
- Prowlers seen in Burlington, Bennington Banner, 23 Jul 1971
- Police check ‘peeping Tom’ reports in area where girl was murdered by Stuart Perry, Burlington Free Press, 23 Jul 1971
- Lid of secrecy clamped on murder investigation by Eric Lorin, Burlington Free Press, 24 July 1971
- ‘Nothing new’ in murder case, Burlington Free Press, 28 Jul 1971
- Curran murder probe continues, Burlington Free Press, 10 Aug 1971
- Opinion: Unsolved Murders, Burlington Free Press, 20 Aug 1971
- Grand jury to get evidence on murder, Burlington Free Press, 02 Sep 1971
- Secret witness rewards, Burlington Free Press, 20 Dec 1971
- Police officials to chart crime course, Burlington Free Press, 16 Oct 1971
- The Way I See It: Reign of Fear by Gordon Mills, Burlington Free Press, 02 Oct 1971
- Probe into Curran murder at standstill, Sun-Journal, 18 Sep 1971
- Murder probe continues, statements being reviewed, Burlington Free Press, 17 Sept 1971
- Grand jury to get evidence on murder, Burlington Free Press, 02 Sep 1971
- Murder of Rita Curran still on unsolved list by Katherine Gregg, 20 July 1973
- Unsolved by Elizabeth Murray, Burlington Free Press, 19 July 2021
- Mystery in the Mountains: Rita Curran’s murder is Burlington’s oldest cold case by Libbi Farrow, My Champlain Valley, 26 July 2021
- Murder of Hartland woman’s sister finally solved after 50 years by Mike Donoghue, The Vermont Standard