FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — The remains of a teenage girl who disappeared nearly 50 years ago have been identified using advanced DNA technology, and detectives believe she may have been killed by a police officer who was also a serial killer.
Susan Poole, 15, was a high school dropout whose family reported her missing just before Christmas in 1972. She lived between the family home in a trailer park near Fort Lauderdale and with a friend in a nearby apartment, Detective Palm Beach County Sheriff. William Springer said at a press conference Thursday.
“No one knew where she went,” he said, noting that her clothes and wallet were left in the friend’s apartment.
A year and a half later, in June 1974, sheriff’s deputies were called to a remote location in Palm Beach County where human remains were found.
“She was tied in the mangroves with wire to a tree,” Springer said. “She was just skeletal remains, nothing left of her but bones.”
At the time, detectives did not have the DNA technology that is now readily available, so the case quickly went cold, he said.
In 2015, investigators submitted DNA to a national missing persons database, which turned up nothing.
Then, in December, Othram, a Texas-based forensic lab that builds DNA profiles using genealogy, contacted the sheriff’s office and said he might be able to help solve some cold cases. . In March, the company provided the names of the victim’s mother and siblings. Springer said he provided a DNA sample from Poole’s mother, which was verified as a match.
Now Springer is looking for evidence that links Poole to Gerard Schaefer, a serial killer who was fatally stabbed by a fellow inmate at Florida State Prison in 1995. Schaffer had been a police officer in Wilton Manors, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, and was a deputy with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office at the time of Poole’s disappearance, Springer said.
Schaefer was convicted of murdering two other girls, ages 16 and 17, who lived near Fort Lauderdale. Their mutilated and decapitated remains were found in April 1973 in Martin County. Due to a United States Supreme Court ruling, Florida had no death penalty in the early 1970s, and Schaefer was sentenced to life in prison.
Because of the similar manner in which these teenagers were killed, Springer said he believed Schaefer might have been involved in Poole’s death. Authorities say Schaefer has been involved in up to 30 deaths.
Robert Stone, who sued Schaefer, once called him “the most sexually deviant person I have ever seen. He made Ted Bundy look like a boy scout.
Investigators are hoping to speak to several friends who lived near Poole when she disappeared and could possibly fill in some gaps about her activities during that time. Springer wants to know if she hitchhiked frequently or if she ever confided in them about any relationship with Schaeffer.
For Poole’s mother, who is over 90, and her siblings, the news put a stop to things, Springer said.
“The family was happy to know what happened,” he said. “We’ve been waiting a long time to see what happened to their sister.” ———
AP reporter Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.