ATLANTA — Georgia and federal officials say DNA has identified a deceased truck driver as the man who killed a young woman in 1988 in the state's far northwest corner.
At a news conference Tuesday at Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters in suburban Atlanta, officials said genetic genealogy points to Henry Fredrick "Hoss" Wise as the killer of Stacey Lyn Chahorski.
"The FBI and our entire law enforcement community in Georgia will never give up and we will use every technological advancement we can to seek justice for you and your family," said Keri Farley, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Atlanta office.
"Genealogy DNA proves Henry 'Hoss' Wise killed Stacey Chahorski," Farley said.
The remains of Chahorski herself were not identified until March, after being found along Interstate 59 near Rising Fawn, Georgia. She, too, was identified using genetic genealogy, with Farley saying it's the first known case where the technique has been used to identify both a victim and a killer.
With many people taking DNA tests to trace their ancestry, the technique can match unknown people to relatives using genetic materials gathered from even decades-old crime scenes. Investigators can then work from distant relatives to identify particular people.
In this case, the technique allowed investigators to identify both the long-missing Michigan teen and Wise, a truck driver who died after a stunt-driving crash in 1999 at a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina racetrack.
The body of Chahorski was known as the Rising Fawn Jane Doe when it was found in December 1988 along Interstate 59. GBI agents and Dade County investigators tried for years to identify her, drawing composite sketches and making clay renderings. After GBI Special Agent Joe Montgomery took over the case in 2005, he had genetic profiles of the victim and killer made and entered into an FBI database.
But there were no hits until the GBI asked the FBI to consider genetic genealogy. That led in March to the body being identified as that of Chahorski, a 19-year-old who last spoke with her mother by phone in September 1988, saying she planned to travel to North Carolina. Investigators think she was traveling from either Knoxville, Tennessee, or Charlotte, North Carolina, by bus or hitchhiking.
Chahorski was reported missing by her mother, Mary Beth Smith, in Norton Shores, Michigan, in January 1989. After she was identified, Chahorski's remains were exhumed from a Dade County grave and returned to Michigan. Montgomery said that when he recently called Smith to tell her that officials had concluded that Wise was the killer, she was "overwhelmed."
"Every time I talk to her, she gets overwhelmed, and understandably so," Montgomery said. "To lose your daughter 34 years ago and go through that emptiness of not knowing where she's at, and finally being able to say, 'She's here.'"
GBI said an advanced test performed by a private lab hired by the FBI returned positive results in June pointing to Wise. Farley said investigators interviewed a living relative of Wise who cooperated with the investigation and gave a DNA sample. Farley said Wise regularly drove a truck route through Dade County at the time, traveling between Birmingham, Alabama; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Nashville, Tennessee.
Officials said Wise lived at times in Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He also worked as a stunt driver and died in 1999 at age 43, 13 days after being burned during a failed stunt at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
Wise's sister later sued the company that hired Wise, alleging it left him unprepared for the stunt. The suit alleged Wise had no flame retardant suit, was driving a vehicle purchased from a scrap yard, and that the car stalled and was engulfed in flames before Wise could escape.
Though Wise had a criminal history, he had no charges as serious as murder. Montgomery said it was "possible" Wise had killed others but said DNA is now on file and any other possible crimes "should come to light now."
"Although we can't bring him to human justice, he's been facing the ultimate justice for some number of years now," said Chris Arnt, the district attorney for Dade County "At least we can get some answers for Stacey's family and they can go to bed knowing their daughter's killer, their loved one's killer, is not out there on the prowl any more."