Anna L. Papalardo-Blake was 44 years old when she was reported missing.
The Vidal Sassoon receptionist was last seen leaving work in New York City around 6 p.m. on March 18, 1980.
What happened to Papalardo-Blake remained a mystery for 42 years until recently thanks to the help of genetic genealogy.
Earlier this week, New York State Troopers announced that a decapitated, handless body found in a travel trunk near a dumpster on the grounds of the Hudson View Apartment Complex in Fishkill, NY in 1980 are the remains of Papalardo-Blake.
Police said the woman who became known as Dutchess County Jane Doe was found on March 20 – two days after Papalardo-Blake disappeared. Police have not named a suspect in her slaying.
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System [NamUs], Papalardo-Blake’s body was discovered in a green travel trunk with black trim, blue lining and brass fittings.
“Various stickers on the outside indicate the trunk travelled from NYC to France in 1958 and returned to NYC in 1960,” the website states.
The website states the travel trunk was dumped by the apartment complex between noon and 10 p.m. on March 18.
The victim at the time was described as in her mid-20s, around 5’6″, and weighing around 135 pounds.
Lack of DNA made it difficult to identify the victim, police said. The 80s was also a time when finding a headless corpse wasn’t that uncommon.
“It’s not unique to this victim,” New York State Trooper A.J. Hicks tells PEOPLE. “Especially at that time, there were several serial killers that back then that was their M.O. At the time we didn’t have DNA. Forensically, we had a lot of limitations at the time and investigators wouldn’t be able to foresee the changes and advancements. They weren’t looking to set up investigators in the future.”
Things changed earlier this year when Othram Labs, a private DNA lab, was asked by the FBI to help with the identification.
“[The FBI] was able to get a usable sample of DNA, which is not easy,” says Hicks. “And then they partnered with the Othram Lab. And then Othram, who specializes in this type of work, was able to get us a usable, a forensically usable sequence of that DNA.”
Hicks says NamUs was able to come up with potential genetic matches that created leads for the detectives.
“Our investigator follows the leads, finds the potential victim’s family, and then continues to work that lead and solidifies it as, yes, the victim is this woman,” he says. “This is her family. And then that allows him to continue to build new leads and follow them to help bring justice for Anna.”
“This only works also because people, a large portion of the population is now submitting their DNA to companies for genealogy purposes just to find out what their genetic makeup is or find other family members across the world that they didn’t know about,” adds Hicks. And that’s allowing us to compare DNA, especially like this DNA from 1980 to find potential matches or familial matches. It took 42 years unfortunately, but we don’t stop.”
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