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Suspect named in brutal Hazleton cold case

DNA was used to identify a suspect in the 57-year-old case of the rape and murder of Marise Chiverella.

HAZLETON, Pa. — Decades after a little girl was murdered, investigators have described how genetic genealogy was used to crack the case.

It was a case that rocked Hazleton 57 years ago–a little girl walking to school -- kidnapped, raped, and murdered.

All this time later, state police announced Thursday morning they know who killed Marise Chiverella.

Investigators used DNA profiles to identify James Forte as the suspect. He was born in 1941 and died in 1980. They then exhumed Forte's body on January 6, 2022. About a month later, DNA from the body was confirmed as a match to DNA samples taken from the girl's clothes.

Credit: WNEP
James Forte

Inside the Hazle Township Commons building, dozens of family and friends gathered Thursday to learn the details of the investigation.

Law enforcement members also were in attendance who covered the case over the decades.

Forte was just 22 years old when he took Marise off the street while she was walking to school.

Her body was found in a strip mine pit in Hazle Township.

Nearly 58 years later, with new technology, Marise's killer was identified through genealogy.

Her siblings say justice has finally been served.

"That we know the individual, it gives us a sense of closure," said Marise's brother Ronald Chiverella.  "No full closure; we'll never have that, but a sense of closure that we know the individual that did it and that the individual isn't out committing the same crime and hurting other young girls like Marise."

A key break in the case came from an 18-year-old student who developed a fascination with genealogy when he was 10 years old.

Eric Schubert was at the state police news conference to explain how he used genetic genealogy to help state police pinpoint the subject in the case.

"I was 18 years old when I started on this case and now, I'm 21. I've been working on this a long time," said Eric Schubert. "It's certainly something that will stick with me. I've been working on it my entire undergraduate career. We worked as a team and in the end, found the answers that everyone was looking for."

Police believe that Forte has committed more crimes. They know he assaulted a woman in 1974, 10 years after the murder. 

"We're always told not to get attached to a case, but we can't help it. It's a vivid memory for everybody who lived through this, and it's a vivid memory for everybody who grew up in this area," said Cpl. Mark Baron, state police lead investigator.

Investigators said they had several suspects over the years, but it was DNA and genealogy that eventually led them to identify Forte. He left DNA on Marise's clothes.

In 2007, that DNA was used to develop a profile of the person who killed Marise.

In 2018, that DNA was entered into a genealogy database. That led police to a distant cousin of the killer and then to closer relatives, and finally to Forte, who had been arrested for a sexual assault in 1974.

This past January, investigators exhumed his body from a cemetery in Drums. And then just last week, the results came back. Forte's DNA was a match to the fluids found on the girl's clothing.

Marise's killer had been found.

"We're not under the impression that this isn't the only crime that he may have committed. And maybe there's people out there that this guy may have perpetrated something on them before," said Lt. Devon Brutosky, Pennsylvania State Police. "So if you do have that information, we'd ask you to call state police at Hazleton. We'd love to talk to you."

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