DNA technology helps solve 1980 murder of Eve Wilkowitz on Long Island

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BAY SHORE, N.Y. — Cutting-edge DNA technology helped solve a 42-year-old cold case murder on Long Island.

Wednesday, the family of a young woman murdered decades ago got their first look at pictures of the man who killed her. As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, they are grateful for long-sought answers.

It was a 1980 tragedy and mystery. Twenty-year-old Eve Wilkowitz was walking home from the Bay Shore train station after returning from her job as a secretary in Manhattan. She was abducted and found days later, raped and strangled. Her murder was unsolved until now.

“We solved the 42-year-old homicide case of Eve Wilkowitz¬† … The perpetrator of that crime, a Herbert Rice, who is deceased,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney announced Wednesday.

Her sister, Irene Wilkowitz, is overwhelmed with relief.

“I still can’t believe I heard those words, ‘We have identified the person responsible for the death of Eve,'” she said.

Tierney calls it a study in persistence and determination. Police kept DNA from the crime and over the years continued to compare it to criminal databases. Finally, with new technology and access to public DNA databases, they found a relative’s match. They got a sample from a cooperating relative of Rice and exhumed Rice’s body, confirming a match.

“This is my first time seeing him. I didn’t Google him even though I knew his name for a couple of months now. I didn’t want to see the last face that Eve saw while she was still alive,” Wilkowitz said.

It’s a small measure of closure for a family and relentless detectives.

“A lot of really, really dogged investigators working collaboratively with the assistance of an unbelievable family,” Tierney said.

“Irene … who never lost faith in our investigators’ dedication,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said.

Rice died of cancer in 1991. Prosecutors believe it was a crime of opportunity. He was living on the block where Eve Wilkowitz was abducted and her body dumped.

“Mostly she liked being a big sister to me. She never got a chance to fulfill her dreams,” Irene Wilkowitz said. “I’ve lived these last 42 years afraid all the time that I was going to be killed next.”

This is first time a DNA match from a public database has solved a Suffolk murder case. The victim’s sister is ¬†hoping it can help other families. She and prosecutors thank Rice’s relatives in helping to solve this case.

Prosecutors said they do not believe Rice was responsible for any other murders.