Quebec police identify killer in 1975 cold case murder of Sharron Prior
LONGUEUIL, Que. — Montreal-area police say they are working with law enforcement agencies in Canada and the United States to determine whether a man newly linked to a 1975 cold case may have been responsible for other unsolved murders.
Investigators in Longueuil, Que., south of Montreal, said Tuesday that DNA evidence establishes with certainty that Franklin Maywood Romine raped and murdered 16-year-old Sharron Prior nearly 50 years ago.
Now police say they're trying to find out whether Romine — a career criminal who died in 1982 at the age of 36 — may have had other victims.
"We are already working on it, but not only in Canada, we're also working with the FBI to see if there's any link with other cold cases in the U.S.," Longueuil police Sgt.-Det. Eric Racicot, who investigated the Prior cold case, told reporters.
Prior's younger sister, Doreen, said the confirmation that police identified her sister's killer brought a "long and difficult journey" to an end.
That journey began over the Easter Weekend in 1975, as she, her twin sister and their brother looked through a window in the family home in Montreal's Pointe-St-Charles neighbourhood hoping to see Sharron Prior return home.
"The solving of Sharron's case will never bring Sharron back," Doreen Prior said Tuesday. "But knowing that her killer is no longer on this earth and cannot kill anymore brings us to somewhat of a closure."
Moreen Prior, Doreen's twin sister, thanked Racicot and Lt.-Det. Sophie Tougas for never giving up on the case.
"Without your skill, dedication and countless hours of investigation, we would not be here today," she said. "You pushed new technology to its boundaries and brought us answers we have been waiting 48 years to hear."
The rape and killing of Prior had gone unsolved since she disappeared on March 29, 1975, after setting out to meet friends at a pizza parlour near her home. Her body was found three days later in a wooded area in Longueuil.
Police investigated 122 suspects, but Romine was not among them.
In 2015 scientists sequenced a complete DNA profile from a shirt used to restrain Prior — but that specimen was only a partial match with a sample found on her jeans.
But by 2022, technology had improved, allowing scientists to amplify small samples of DNA for study. That year Racicot sent the shirt and the jeans to Quebec's legal science laboratory for retesting, and for the first time a complete and matching sample was found on both clothing items.
It was at that point that the legal science laboratory suggested a new technique: analyzing the Y chromosome in the DNA sample.
Passed down unchanged from father to son, the Y chromosome can be compared with DNA samples in databases containing thousands of profiles collected from people through commercial testing kits from companies such as 23andMe or AncestryDNA.
The Y chromosome found on the jeans and the shirt was compared with profiles in an American database and it matched with a family name: Romine.
As Quebec's legal science lab reconstructed a Romine family tree, Racicot's police work led him to determine that a Franklin Maywood Romine had been living in Montreal at the time of the killing and that other evidence pointed to him. Romine's appearance corresponded with a witness's physical description of the suspect; Romine's car was compatible with the tire tracks at the site where police found Prior's body 48 years ago.
Meanwhile, Quebec scientists traced the Romine DNA to four brothers from West Virginia. And on May 2, Racicot and several colleagues were present as local authorities in West Virginia exhumed Romine's remains for DNA testing to confirm his link to the crime.
"The resolution of this cold case is based on new investigative techniques but also on advances in forensic biology," Racicot told reporters. "These are new tools that we didn’t have a few years ago and it’s a powerful one."
The DNA is "like a guiding lead," he said. "It still needs to be confirmed by classic investigation techniques."
Romine, whose criminal record began when he was a child, was on the run from the law in West Virginia at the time of Prior's death. On parole since 1973, he was facing new charges of breaking and entering and rape.
He fled to Montreal, where he lived until around seven months after Prior's murder, when he was arrested by Montreal police and extradited to the U.S. But by 1982, he was back in the city. He died there of unknown causes, but his body was buried in his hometown of Fraziers Bottom, West Virginia
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the first name of Moreen Prior and the last name of Lt.-Det. Sophie Tougas.