The slaying and sexual assault of schoolteacher Christy Mirack stumped homicide detectives for 25 years until new genetic genealogy technology produced a DNA match that led them Monday to a Lancaster disc jockey they never suspected.
Police arrested Raymond “DJ Freez” Rowe, 49, without incident Monday afternoon at his 249 Whittier Lane home on a count of criminal homicide for the Dec. 21, 1992 slaying inside Mirack's East Lampeter Township townhouse.
Police interviewed over 1,600 people over the years, all leading to dead-ends. But investigators did not give up trying to find whoever battered and strangled the 25-year-old Mirack as she was about to leave for Rohrerstown Elementary School, where she taught sixth grade.
At a news conference Monday, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said the break came when a DNA sample from the crime scene was uploaded to a public genetic genealogy database. The result was a match to a close Lancaster County relative of Rowe's.
Undercover investigators on May 31 recovered used chewing gum and a water bottle Rowe had used while working an event as a disc jockey at Smoketown Elementary School.
The state police crime lab then determined that DNA found on the gum and the bottle matched DNA taken from Mirack's body and on the carpet under her body.
“Quite honestly, we didn't feel we had any more arrows in the quiver” until the DNA got a hit, Stedman said. Prior to the match, Rowe had not been on the investigators' radar.
Rowe was being held in Lancaster County Prison and was not eligible for bail, Stedman said. Stedman said he will likely seek a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty.
“This killer was at liberty for this brutal crime longer than Christy Mirack was on this earth alive,” he said. “His apprehension was long overdue."
DNA match led to arrest
Investigators are not sure if Mirack knew Rowe, but it is possible she went to a club or event where they could have met, Stedman said.
Stedman said the investigation will continue to try to build an even stronger connection between Rowe and the victim.
Rowe was 24 at the time of the slaying and lived at 442 E. Chestnut St., about four miles from Mirack’s home.
The DNA evidence was submitted to Parabon NanoLabs, which last year generated three composite photos that could show the face of the killer.
Based on Parabon’s recommendation, detectives authorized the lab to upload the file to GEDmatch, a public genealogy database, which resulted in matches to Rowe's relatives.
“Parabon was really our last shot,” Stedman said. “Little did we know at the time that it's turned out it to be our best and led us to today.”
Parabon’s same technology led to the arrest of the so-called Golden State Killer in California earlier this year.
But it wasn’t enough to make an arrest. Stedman said law enforcement “had to collect a surreptitious sample” from Rowe to confirm his connection to the crime scene. They then collected Rowe's water bottle and gum.
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Based on the state police crime lab’s analysis, he said, there is a “1 in 200 octillion chance that it was someone” other than Rowe who left DNA at the murder scene.
Stedman said he believes this was the first time this type of DNA technology was used to solve a homicide case in Pennsylvania.
“There's a new technology that can be married up with determined investigators, and when we do that, we can have results such as this that would not have been possible otherwise,” he said.
DNA technology has been used to clear "many, many suspects" in this case over the years, he added.
But Stedman said the investigation "is by no means closed."
Anyone who knows of a possible connection between Mirack and Rowe should contact the district attorney's office, he said.
Stedman declined to say if Rowe is a suspect in other crimes, although he said his DNA has been entered into a federal database.
Mirack’s family was informed of the arrest on Monday, Stedman said. Stedman said Christy’s brother, Vince Mirack, expressed joy at the arrest and asked that the family’s privacy be respected.
The district attorney’s office took over the investigation from East Lampeter police in 2016. State police and the FBI helped with the investigation.
Found by principal
The slaying was discovered when Mirack’s principal, Harry Goodman, went to her home and found her body after she didn’t appear for work.
An autopsy showed that Mirack died by strangulation with hands and clothing. She also was beaten and sexually assaulted. Her jaw was broken, Stedman said, and her elbows and knees were bruised as she apparently put up a struggle.
Investigators had theorized the killer was known to Mirack because there was no sign of forced entry into the townhouse on William Penn Way in Greenfield Estates.
The case stumped investigators despite more than 1,500 interviews in the first three years. More than 60 men were cleared as their blood types and body fluids failed to match the killer’s.
The Mirack family had offered a $10,000 reward for the killer’s arrest.
In November, the district attorney’s office created a website, WhoKilledChristyMirack.com, to generate tips.