DNA proves a long-dead man attacked 3 girls in Indiana nearly 50 years ago, police say

Jan 19, 2024, 2:42 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man who died in a Texas prison decades ago has been identified as the person who abducted and stabbed three Indiana girls and left them in a cornfield nearly 50 years ago, police said, citing DNA evidence.

The girls, ages 11, 13 and 14, survived the attack, but “a clear suspect” was never pinpointed and the case went cold — until now. Investigators using “forensic genetic genealogy” have identified the attacker as Thomas Edward Williams, who died at 49 in November 1983 in a Galveston, Texas, prison, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said Thursday.

“Today’s announcement is nearly 50 years in the making, but it shows the dedication and perseverance of our detectives and partners,” Deputy Chief Kendale Adams said in a news release.

At the time of the August 1975 attack, police said Williams lived in Indianapolis near where the three girls were abducted while hitchhiking.

They were driven to a cornfield in suburban Hancock County, where one of them was raped and stabbed in the throat and chest and the two others had their throats slashed, The Indianapolis Star reported. Two of the girls flagged down a motorist to summon help.

Investigators began reviewing the case in 2018 after the three now-adult women contacted police about the unsolved attacks, leading to the testing of crime scene evidence.

In 2021, authorities developed a full DNA profile of an unknown male from some of the previously gathered evidence, then matched it to two additional DNA profiles obtained from other evidence, police said.

Investigators submitted the profile last year to DNA Labs International, a Florida-based forensic laboratory, where it was subjected to “the latest forensic technology available,” police said.

After ancestry analysis helped identify the suspect’s children, samples from Williams’ relatives helped confirm his identification as the attacker, police said.

The three women — Sheri Rottler Trick, Kathie Rottler and Kandice Smith — recounted at a news conference Thursday how they had remained committed over the decades to pushing law enforcement to identify their assailant.

“I’m at peace now in my heart,” Smith said.

Rottler Trick said she had forgiven the man who attacked her “in order to continue my life.”

The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify people who have been sexually assaulted unless they voluntarily identify themselves.

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DNA proves a long-dead man attacked 3 girls in Indiana nearly 50 years ago, police say