Authorities identify old remains, say victim was murdered 5-18-07

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - DNA testing has identified skeletal remains found three decades ago as those of a teenage girl from Syracuse, and authorities said Friday she probably was murdered.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said the remains discovered March 31, 1977 were recently identified by comparing DNA from the skeleton to DNA from the father, brother and maternal niece of 17-year-old Melody Rowe, who went to the store for her mother in September 1972 and never came back.

Rowe's body was found on Onondaga Indian Nation land just south of Syracuse and she was buried as “Jane Doe.”

Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio said the case had always been listed on the agenda of the county Cold Case Task Force, and at a meeting in January 2005 authorities decided that exhuming the remains was the first step.

Judge Joseph Fahey ordered the body exhumed in October 2005 and a second autopsy was conducted while state police investigator Tim Kelly located relatives of the suspected victim. Experts at the University of North Texas Health Science Center developed a DNA profile from one of Rowe's femurs.

Although investigators have not been able to determine a cause of death, Fitzpatrick termed it suspicious and said Rowe probably was killed somewhere else. The district attorney declined to offer any details of where the body was originally found for fear of hindering the investigation.

“The skeletal remains don't reveal an obvious cause of death,” Fitzpatrick said at a press conference. “Other than that, I'm going on 25 years as a homicide prosecutor. The pictures that I've seen of the body, where the body was discovered, how the body was concealed, lead me to believe that it certainly was not a natural death. This is not someone that died of natural causes in a remote area of the county. Someone wanted her not to be discovered.”

Kelly described the victim as “limited and a little autistic with not many friends.” Since the case is so old, authorities were asking for help from anyone who knew Rowe to come forward with information and call 315-455-2826.

“Is this a long shot? Sure,” Fitzpatrick said. “Maybe somebody out there has kept this a secret for 30 years. It's been 35 years since Melody disappeared. We'd like to bring the killer to justice and bring some measure of peace to her family.”

Fitzpatrick said Donald Sigsbee, a retired cabinetmaker from Madison, N.Y. who is serving 25 years to life in prison for the 1975 slaying of a 19-year-old college student, is a “person of interest” in the case.

Sigsbee was convicted three years ago of raping and murdering Regina Reynolds, a student at Morrisville State College who disappeared while hitchhiking Nov. 6, 1975. Her body was found 13 days later near Otisco Lake, 15 miles southwest of Syracuse. Authorities said she was stabbed in the heart.

Sigsbee, who got away with the crime for more than 28 years until investigators linked him to the case with DNA from a discarded drinking straw, also remains a suspect in at least two other cases from the 1970s involving missing coeds in upstate New York.

Melody Rowe's father now lives in Alaska and her brother, John Rowe Jr., resides in Fulton, N.Y. Her mother died in the early 1980s.

“We'd like to find out what happened,” Kelly said. “We're very pleased we can find some closure at least.”