FREEHOLD, NJ (PIX11) — Skeletal remains found along a waterfront bike path in New Jersey in 1988 have now been identified as belonging to a 16-year-old girl who has been missing since 1972, authorities said Monday — though the mystery, how she died lives on.
Nancy Carol Fitzgerald sat down with her family for Easter dinner at her home on Mohr Avenue in Bloomfield on April 2, 1972, the Monmouth County Attorney’s Office said in a press release. A day later she disappeared without a trace.
Over 50 years later, investigators now know Fitzgerald’s remains were recovered thanks to advanced DNA testing and interviews with distant relatives in Georgia and Pennsylvania, officials said.
“Today’s announcement marks the culmination of decades of hard work by a network of individuals whose collective determination and ingenuity have proven inexhaustible,” Monmouth County Attorney Raymond Santiago said in a statement. “This is not only a testament to their efforts, but also reflects our firm commitment to uncovering the truth and serving the interests of justice, no matter how much time has passed or what investigative obstacles might ever stand in the way.”
On December 10, 1988 — more than 16 years after Fitzgerald’s disappearance — skeletal remains were found during a community clean-up near the Henry Hudson Bike Trail in the Atlantic Highlands, not far from Sandy Hook Bay, officials said.
But it was almost another 34 years before investigators positively identified the remains as belonging to Fitzgerald. A forensic anthropologist at the time could only determine that the remains belonged to a young, white woman, between the ages of 15 and 18, who had likely been deceased since the mid-1970s, officials said. In the 1990s, a DNA profile was created from the remains for comparison purposes, but this was initially unsuccessful.
A breakthrough finally came in 2020 when Lt. Andrea Tozzi and Det. Wayne Raynor of the Monmouth County Attorney’s Office approached Virginia-based DNA analysis company Bode Technology, which reviewed the profile using more advanced technology than before, officials said. This search turned up a distant relative of Fitzgerald who lives in Georgia.
This relative agreed to be interviewed and submitted a DNA sample of her mother, which in turn led to the identification of another relative in Pennsylvania who was believed to be the younger sister of the girl, known only as Jane for more than three decades Doe was known.
This woman, too, agreed to an interview and DNA analysis last month that showed with 99.9997% certainty that she was a direct relative of Jane Doe. New Jersey officials then officially determined that the remains belonged to Nancy Fitzgerald. Her other known surviving relatives were then notified and arrangements are being made to give them Fitzgerald’s remains for burial, officials said.
But while one mystery has been solved, another remains.
“While we’re certainly heartened that the identification was conducted to solve a 50-year-old mystery, ultimately this is a puzzle that will remain uncompleted until we find the last missing piece: the circumstances behind Nancy’s death,” Santiago said , the Monmouth County Attorney’s Office in a statement. “To that end, we are urging anyone with information on this matter to come forward and let us know what they know. Ms Fitzgerald’s peers would likely all be in their 60s today, so we firmly believe it’s not too late to determine what happened to her and why – and, if possible, every living person responsible could be held accountable. ”
Fitzgerald added that Fitzgerald attended Bloomfield Berkeley Elementary School and North Junior High School — now known as Bloomfield Middle School — and officials were asking for help to finally close the case.
Anyone with information is urged to contact MCPO Detective Raynor or Lt. Michael Zudonyi of the Atlantic Highlands Police Department at 732-291-1212. Those who wish to remain anonymous can submit a tip to Monmouth County Crime Stoppers by calling their confidential tip line at 1-800-671-4400; by downloading the free mobile app P3 Tips (available for iOS and Android – https://www.p3tips.com/1182) by calling 800-671-4400 or going to www.monmouthcountycrimestoppers.com.
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