A body was found stuffed in a trunk in 1969 — and now, the woman has been identified as a mother of five, Florida police said.
Mystery lingers in the decades-old homicide case, as St. Petersburg investigators are still trying to determine who killed the woman, an Arizona resident named Sylvia June Atherton.
The case dates to Halloween of 1969, when a couple of kids reported seeing a pickup truck pull into a field behind a restaurant. Two people got out, placed down a suitcase-like trunk and left, Michael Kovacsev, assistant chief of the St. Petersburg Police Department, said in video from a May 28 news conference.
Officers responding to the scene opened the trunk and “discovered a woman’s body wrapped in a large plastic bag. The victim had visible injuries to her head and had been strangled with a man’s Western-style Bolo tie. She was partially clothed in a pajama top,” police wrote in a Facebook post.
How was the woman identified?
The woman found dead in the field wasn’t identified for years. Meanwhile, “the mystery of the ‘Trunk Lady,’ as the case came to be known, was featured on television shows, articles, and cold case conferences,” police said.
The woman’s body was buried in the St. Petersburg area before her remains were exhumed for DNA testing in 2010. But the samples were too degraded for the testing to be successful, and police had to spend another decade waiting for answers.
This year, police said other samples brought to the forensics company Othram led to a DNA profile, which was compared to Atherton’s children. After 53 years, she was identified as the woman whose body was found in the field.
Atherton, a mother of five, was 41 years old at the time of her death. Police don’t believe she had ties to the St. Petersburg area.
Atherton reportedly had traveled from Tucson, Arizona, to Chicago with her husband and three of her children, including two who were adults. She dropped off two of her kids, who never saw her again, according to Kovacsev.
“We do know that her husband at the time passed away in 1999 and never listed her as missing,” Kovacsev said. “We do know that he never listed her on any bankruptcy records.”
As of May 30, police said they haven’t tracked down some of Atherton’s kids who traveled to Chicago and think those family members could have additional information. Anyone with clues is asked to call officers at 727-893-4823.