PITTSBURGH (AP) — DNA tests show that a body exhumed from a pauper’s grave last fall is almost certainly that of a 13-year-old Pittsburgh girl last seen in 1967, Pennsylvania State Police said Thursday.
The badly decomposed body was found in a landfill in Salem Township, Westmoreland County in September 1967, not long after Teala Patricia Thompson was last seen.
Authorities weren’t able to identify the body then, so it was buried in a grave for unclaimed remains along with the unidentified body of a baby found in a sewer pipe in Penn Township around the same time.
But in October, a cold-case investigator got permission to exhume the remains. Shortly after that was publicized, Thompson’s family came forward and gave DNA samples.
The Westmoreland County coroner had the samples tested by The University of North Texas Health and Science Center, which determined it’s 47.5 billion times more likely the remains are related to the Thompsons than not.
“We now have a homicide investigation,” state police spokesman Trooper Stephen Limani said.
Mary Thompson, 53, was Teala’s 4-year-old sister when the teen was last seen. She said the family is “deeply grateful” for the work police have done — even if no one is ever charged in Teala’s death.
“Although we may never know all the details of exactly what happened, we know this is her and we now have closure,” Thompson said Thursday.
The family believes a man Teala worked for at a dry cleaner might have been responsible for her death, or at least know how or why she disappeared after school one day, though police have never charged anyone in the case, Thompson said. But Teala’s siblings didn’t know much about the investigation because their mother — who had 10 children and died in 2005 — kept to herself what she had learned from police, Thompson said.
“In my heart, I don’t believe the man who did this to her is still here,” Thompson said. “I think the guy who did this to her was an old man” and has since died.
It wasn’t until the family contacted police last fall that Thompson learned that police had urged her mother to view the remains shortly after they were found in hopes of confirming Teala’s identity.
“They called my mom to come identify the body, but my mom would not go identify the body,” Thompson said. “She kept that to herself. She just kept saying that ‘That’s not my daughter, my daughter’s coming home. She’ll walk through this door anytime.'”
“But we was young, so we didn’t know that,” Thompson said. “It was always kept kind of quiet. But my mom, deep in her heart, she knew Teala was gone, but she didn’t have the heart to tell us.”
Trooper Brian Gross, the cold-case investigator, said he had a “mixed emotion” when announcing his findings because he had to tell the family that Teala was deceased. “But on the other hand for 48 years nobody knew who this young girl was, and now we know, which is remarkable,” Gross told reporters.
Gross didn’t exhume the remains because of any tips or new leads, but because of “the simple fact that two children were involved in this case (and) it seemed like nothing had been done up to this point to try and identify them” he said last fall. A forensic examination determined that Teala Thompson likely died from a blow to the head.
It’s unclear whether police have made any progress in identifying the 20-ounce baby boy who was found drowned in the sewer about a month before Thompson’s remains were found. Gross said before the bodies were exhumed that police hoped to compare their DNA against a database of family members of missing people.