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Officials Exhume Body Of Pregnant 1959 Murder Victim Possibly Tied To Notorious Killer

One of several suspects in the murder of pregnant 18-year-old Ruth Whitman 63 years ago is Robert Garrow, the notorious rapist and serial killer who was shot during a prison escape in 1978.

By Jax Miller
A police handout of victim Ruth Whitman

Police in upstate New York exhumed the body of a pregnant teenager murdered more than 60 years ago.

Ruth Whitman was just 18 years old when someone beat her and left her to drown in a water-filled ditch in the winter of 1959 just outside of Albany, New York. Colonie police exhumed Whitman’s body on Monday from a cemetery in Glenmont — just south of Albany — to potentially extract the suspect’s DNA in a last-ditch effort to solve the case, according to the Delmar Spotlight News.

Investigators — including Sgt. John Santorio for the Colonie Police Department — hope methods like genetic genealogy will also rule other persons of interest out from a long, decades-old list of suspects.

“There are countless suspects to name,” Santorio told Spotlight News. “There are several that evidence equally suggests they have been involved, but there [are] no definitive conclusions that have been drawn.”

Santorio said that before DNA testing, it felt “nearly impossible” to comb through more than 300 pages of suspects collected over the years by multiple agencies, including the Albany Police and the New York State Police.

“Having suspects in this case is not a problem,” said Colonie Dep. Chief Robert Winn. “Having something that eliminates them or makes you focus on them is the problem.”

Ruth Whitman was last spotted on Dec. 7, 1959, as part of a crowd of spectators drawn to a large Lancaster Street fire near her Colonie apartment northwest of Albany. Witnesses’ statements varied on who Whitman was with at the fire and in which direction she possibly went afterwards.

A bus driver found Whitman’s body on Sand Creek Road in Colonie the following day.

Contemporaneous reports falsely claimed the victim was a sex worker, but the Delmar paper reports that Whitman, who stood at 4’11”, had been working for an Albany County Nursing Home when she disappeared.

A postmortem examination revealed that Whitman was four to six weeks pregnant — something that took her fiancé, Nelson Paul, by surprise. Investigators say it’s plausible that the victim was not yet aware of the pregnancy at the time of her death.

Paul, now 82, currently lives in Canada; the Cold Case Analysis Center at the College of St. Rose, a private Catholic college in Albany whose students have been researching Whitman’s case, believe he has a solid alibi on the night of the murder. Still, police say he was known to be a heavy drinker and was later convicted of killing a man in Canada.

He was one of several people to recently volunteer his DNA to help find Whitman’s killer, according to Spotlight News.

Several suspects have come and gone over the years, including a local man suspected of killing his two children and Whitman’s brother-in-law, who was rumored to have eyes for Whitman.

Another was a notorious serial rapist and (eventually convicted) killer Robert Garrow.

“He was an admitted serial killer living in the same neighborhood and was potentially with Whitman at the scene of the fire on the night of the murder,” said Sgt. Santorio. “How can’t he still be a suspect?”

Robert Garrow being carried out of the jail for the start of his trial

According to the College of St. Rose investigators, Garrow lived with his newlywed wife just one block away from Whitman at the time of her death. Albany County officials spoke with him about the case in the early 1960s, but he was less than forthcoming in his interview and was never charged .

Garrow was convicted of his first rape — that of a teenage girl whose boyfriend he also assaulted — in 1961 and served seven years. He was out on parole when, in 1973, he was arrested again for raping two young girls. He was released on bail and absconded, eventually kidnapping four campers in the Adirondacks in July 1973, according to a New York Times archive. Garrow fatally stabbed one of the victims, an 18-year-old college student, after tying him to a tree.

At the time, it set off the largest-scale manhunt in New York State history. He was shot and apprehended 11 days later.

That August, while awaiting trial in the camper's murder, Garrow confessed to his lawyers that he had killed three other people: a man whose body had been found, that man's girlfriend — who he'd kidnapped and raped for days before killing her and hiding the body — and a teenage girl who body he'd also hidden after raping and killing her, according to the Times-Union.

The attorneys found the bodies but kept their locations to themselves, citing client-attorney privilege, as investigators and loved ones conducted extensive searches for the missing 16-year-old and 20-year-old. The case became known as “The Buried Bodies Case” and continues to underline legal ethics studies in law schools today.

The woman's body was found on Thanksgiving 1973 and the teen girl's body was found in December, according to the Schenectady Daily Gazette.

Garrow confessed to all four murders as well as seven rapes at his June 1974 trial for the death of the 18-year-old man, at which he pleaded insanity. The jury convicted him of the murder and he was sentenced to 25 years to life. He was shot to death during an escape from prison in 1978.

Colonie police say they recently collected DNA from Garrow’s living relatives — including his son and brother — in hopes of comparing it to potential DNA found from Whitman’s exhumation.

Investigators had collected scrapings — presumably including DNA — from underneath Whitman’s fingernails during the original 1959 investigation, but the evidence disappeared in the mid-1970s when New York State Police moved their headquarters.

According to ABC Albany affiliate WTEN, investigators hope to extract further scrapings from underneath Whitman’s fingernails upon exhumation, and hope to find the murder suspect’s hair and blood.

On Monday, experts also created a mold from a wound on Whitman's head, according to Spotlight News. Police hope this will help determine whether or not it matches the blunt end of a knife Garrow allegedly used in other crimes.

But Garrow isn’t the only person on investigators’ radar: They are also seeking DNA samples from at least two other suspects, one living and one dead.

Police collected DNA from the dead suspect’s relatives, though they have yet to connect with the living suspect, who reportedly currently lives in Florida.

Whitman’s family, including a twin and two sisters, were present when investigators exhumed Whitman’s body at the Calvary Cemetery in Glenmont. Following work by the medical examiner, loved ones were present when Whitman was re-buried at Calvary in a Catholic ceremony.

Investigators will now send the DNA collected from under her fingernails off to a lab in Virginia, along with the DNA samples collected from some of the suspects’ relatives.

“This was an investigative step we had always considered — and it is certainly a drastic measure, in any case, to exhume a body,” said Winn. “But at this point in the investigation, there is nothing left for us to do. This is the last attempt for us to try and get DNA evidence.”

DNA testing was made possible when Sgt. Santorio was granted $10,000 by Season of Justice, a non-profit organization that provides funding for law enforcement agencies looking to close cold cases.

Police say it can take up to 24 weeks to get the results from the DNA testing, and after that they they will decide how to proceed with the criminal investigation.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Colonie Police Department at 1-518-783-2754 or New York State Troopers at crimetip@troopers.ny.gov.