Police in Virginia announced Monday that they used advanced DNA technology to identify remains found in a ditch 21 years ago as that of Patricia Agnes Gildawie, a teenager who disappeared in 1975.
Gildawie, known as “Choubi,” or “little cabbage” by her family, was only 17 when she was last seen on Feb. 8, 1975.
The teen’s skeletal remains were found in a drainage ditch by a construction crew on Sept. 27, 2001. She had been killed by a shot to the back of the head. The remains were initially misidentified as that of a young African-American female.
“It was a ‘who done it.’ We didn’t know who she was. She had no ID,” Fairfax County Police Department Major Ed O’Carroll told WJLA.
The remains were unidentified until earlier this year, when Fairfax County Police reached out to Othram, a Texas-based DNA lab. Othram performed advance genetic testing that led detectives to Veronique Duperly, Gildawie’s older half-sister.
“My heart dropped out of me,” Duperly said of the first phone call from the police.
“But then, a relief came over me because I finally knew where she was.”
Born only eighteen months apart, the sisters moved to Fairfax County from France as young children. Duperly was newly married when Gildawie disappeared.
“She was a free spirit,” Veronique said of her younger sister.
“She didn’t want to live under anybody’s rules. She was a sweet girl. She never hurt anybody, as far as I know. But she just got involved with the wrong type of people.”
At the time of her disappearance, Gildawie was dating an older man who worked at a local upholstery store.
“I’m quite certain in my heart— now, no evidence— that he probably had something to do with her disappearance,” Duperly told WTOP.
O’Carroll confirmed that police are working on finding Gildawie’s boyfriend.
“We’ve been working hard on tracking him down,” he said. “We know where he used to work — that business is no longer in operation. So we have a lot of work do to find out where he is and what he knows.”
Noting the extent of how Fairfax County has changed over the last five decades, O’Carroll said that investigators have their work cut out for them.
“We’re re-creating the ’70s,” he said.
“Finding out who she was with, who she spent time with. We’re trying to track down people that knew her.”
Duperly says that learning her sister’s fate has quelled a lifetime of questions.
“The not knowing was the worst, because I couldn’t even imagine what could have happened to her,” she lamented.
“I was wondering, you know, maybe did she have a family? Did she get married? Was she sick? Was she hurt? Was she in the hospital some place? You know, you don’t know, and you don’t know where to look. Nobody could help me.”
Even so, she is skeptical of police finding Gildawie’s killer.
“Somebody walked her out in the woods and shot her in the back of the head and left her there, and didn’t give a second thought,” Duperly said.
“If they find who did this, I will be so amazed and thankful. But I have my doubts.”
Gildawie’s case is one of several in recent months that have been reinvigorated by advancements in genetic technology.
Just last week, The Post reported that DNA testing was used to tie convicted killer Gary Muehlberg to four previously unsolved murders. Also this month, a former Nevada deputy attorney general attempted suicide after authorities obtained his DNA while investigating the 1972 stabbing death of a 19-year-old woman. He was later charged with second-degree murder.