McLEAN, Va. — Véronique Duperly spent most of 1975 hanging posters of her younger sister’s high school yearbook photo on street corners in Fairfax County.
Next to the photo, she typed: “Choubi Gildawie, 17, missing.”
“God, I remember setting things up for them,” said Duperly, now 66. “Nobody ever called.”
Duperly said that decades ago she lost hope of finding her sister, Patricia Gildawie, nicknamed “Choubi”.
But using forensic genealogy testing, detectives from the Fairfax County Police Department have linked remains found 21 years ago near a drainage ditch at Lincoln Circle in McLean in Gildawie. Detectives recently told Duperly what happened to her sister: Evidence shows the 17-year-old was shot in the head in the mid to late 1970s on then wooded McLean Street, which is now the site of an apartment complex.
Even if you’ve never taken a DNA test, a distant relative’s DNA test could reveal your identity
Police say potential leads into the identity of the female victim fizzled for decades until they teamed up with forensic lab Othram Inc. – a company they have used in the past . Othram scientists created a DNA profile for the victim that matched Duperly’s family tree. Investigators were later able to confirm the remains belonged to Gildawie herself in August through additional DNA testing, Fairfax County Police said.
Police made no arrests in the case, which they described as a homicide. They said matching the victim to Gildawie brings them closer to solving the crime.
Duperly said she had peace knowing her sister’s body could get her name back. But she said the discovery also left her with more questions in the weeks since Fairfax County police called her family: Who shot her sister? How long did she stay in these woods?
Fairfax County officials said detectives had the same questions. Now that the police know who Lincoln Circle’s body belonged to, they are investigating whether the person who killed Gildawie is still alive and trying to get away with it.
A cold case
Bruises covered Gildawie’s arms and legs the last time she spoke to her sister in February 1975, Duperly recalled. They were also lying on his shoulders and back.
“Did she run into things or someone beat her up, I don’t know for sure,” Duperly said.
Gildawie was a free spirit who didn’t like being told what to do by adults, Duperly said. In the months leading up to her disappearance, she said Gildawie rarely came home, stopping for a few hours once a week or two.
Duperly said she was worried.
She knew her sister was dating an older man in his thirties, even though she didn’t know his name. He worked in an upholstery store near Church Street and Lawyers Road in Vienna, she said. Duperly recalled Gildawie sometimes driving to Duperly’s in his white Cadillac Eldorado with a red interior.
“He let her drive in that car,” she said. “I mean, it’s crazy. She was only 17 and didn’t have a license.
Duperly said when she saw the bruises she voiced her concerns and her sister decided to leave. Gildawie said to her sister, “I’ll see you soon. Duperly never saw her again.
Duperly and her mother, Jacqueline Bradford, spent years struggling to find Gildawie on their own. The police did not help with the search and a private investigation was not an option, she said.
“We couldn’t pay anyone,” she said. “And we didn’t even know where to start looking.”
Duperly married in 1981 and began raising three daughters. She said that by focusing on her own life, she couldn’t keep up with what seemed like an endless search.
She decided that Gildawie would remain in her heart, accepting that her family would probably never know what happened.
That was until a Fairfax County detective called Duperly’s daughter in early August, nearly 41 years later, about the remains of a 16-19-year-old white woman who had been found two decades earlier. The detective asked to contact Duperly. The two got on the phone and everything clicked, Duperly said.
As soon as he described the case, a thought came to him: “Choubi”.
This isn’t the first time Fairfax County detectives have contacted family members regarding cold cases from years ago over forensic genealogy.
Police announced in July that they had identified Joyce Marilyn Meyer Sommers as the person who died by suicide at Fairfax County Cemetery in 1996. She was previously known as “the Lady of the Christmas Tree” because she had placed a small tree on a blanket. next to her before she died.
They also worked with Othram, who is based in Texas, on this case as well. The company uses genome sequencing to create full DNA profiles for victims who might otherwise remain unidentified.
Fairfax police initially began their investigation into the remains found at McLean in September 2001 with faulty information. A report from a medical examiner and anthropologist at the time indicated that the victim was likely an African-American woman. Gildawie was white. The report also says the body lay in the woods for a year or two – which authorities now believe is incorrect.
Maj. Ed O’Carroll, chief of the Fairfax Police Major Crimes Bureau, said DNA was key to linking Gildawie to the crime.
“Not only were they out of time, but they were also out of the running, which really discouraged the detectives in their search,” he said. “We now believe she was murdered shortly after she was known to be alive, i.e. in 1975.”
Kristen Mittelman, director of development at Othram, said DNA profiles are accurate and help avoid these discrepancies.
Othram used an online fundraiser to raise money to create a DNA profile for Gildawie’s case, just like they did for Sommers. Their scientists then placed Gildawie on Duperly’s family tree using other profiles found in their DNA database and other private databases that share their information with police.
The dark side of our passion for genealogy
Duperly was amazed that the genealogy could give her family some long-awaited answers, she said. When police contacted her, she already had her own profile on Ancestry.com.
She gave her lab results to Fairfax County detectives. Police confirmed she and the victim were sisters within 15 minutes.
“Oh my god, I was so relieved,” she said. “I can stop worrying: ‘Is she in jail? Is she in jail? Is she hurt? Now I know. Yes, she was hurt.
O’Carroll said obtaining the victim’s identification was a breakthrough needed to solve the whole case. He said police were actively investigating the case, but did not reveal if they had any suspects.
Police want to identify the older man Gildawie was seen with – they would like to speak to him to get a better idea of what happened that year, O’Carroll said.
“This killer may have been on the loose for 47 years, but we’re closer today than yesterday,” he said. “And we’re excited about this development, but our work is far from done.”
Dispel the mystery
For years, Gildawie’s body lay abandoned in the woods, then her remains were held in custody for a few more decades. Duperly said she would now like to find a place where her sister can rest.
“I knew her so little when she was a teenager,” Duperly said. “There was never a heart-to-heart conversation about ‘when I die’. It was the last thing that came to mind.”
Bradford – Duperly and Gildawie’s mother – died in 2016, just six years before her daughter’s body was identified.
“She was so worried about her,” Duperly said of her mom. “And she never knew what happened to her after all these years.”
Bradford wanted his ashes scattered in the ocean, Duperly said. The family plans to cremate Gildawie and scatter her and her mother’s ashes, she said.
Duperly said she wondered what Gildawie’s life might have been like: would she have married or had children? How would she be now?
Duperly said she knew she would never have all the answers. But she hopes to find at least one: who killed her sister.