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DNA Evidence Solves Cold Case Nearly 50 Years After Harvard Student's Rape And Murder

Jane Britton was raped and murdered in Cambridge back in 1969. Now, nearly 50 years later, her family finally has answers.

By Noah Hurowitz

Nearly 50 years after Jane Britton was brutally sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment, cops have finally identified her alleged killer, authorities announced this week, according to the Boston Globe.

Using DNA evidence collected at the scene of the crime and and a newly available DNA database, officials connected Britton’s murder to Michael Sumpter, a convicted rapist whose DNA has linked him to a slew of rapes, assaults, and murders in the Boston area in the late 1960s and early 1970s who died in 2001, according to the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office.

The case was solved thanks to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which linked evidence found at the scene of Britton’s murder with DNA taken from a brother of Sumpter, a similar method to that which led to the successful capture of the Golden State Killer, the NorCal Rapist, and other notorious serial predators, prosecutors said, according to ABC News.

“The murder of Jane Britton has raised many questions, and piqued the interest of members of the community over the past 50 years,” said District Attorney Marian Ryan, Boston.com reports. “Multiple teams of investigators have been assigned to this case looking into tips from the public and ruling out multiple suspects. As a direct result of their perseverance and utilization of the latest advances in forensic technology by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab today I am confident that the mystery of who killed Jane Britton has finally been solved and this case is officially closed.”

Jane Britton, a 23-year-old graduate student of anthropology at Harvard University, spent her last night alive, January 6, 1969, like any other student in Cambridge, going ice skating with her boyfriend and having a few drinks at a pub. The couple returned to Britton’s apartment around 10:30 p.m., and after her boyfriend left, she popped into a neighbor’s apartment for a nightcap, returning home at about 12:30 a.m. She was never seen alive again.

The next day, at about 12:30 p.m., her boyfriend swung by the apartment to check on Britton because she had missed an exam that morning, prosecutors said. He found her dead, having been sexually assaulted and her skull caved in by a blunt object, the Boston Globe reports.

The breakthrough marks the third murder linked to Sumpter using DNA evidence. He’s also believed to have raped and murdered 23-year-old Emily Rutchick in 1972, as well as 24-year-old Mary Lee McClain, who was found raped and murdered in her Cambridge apartment in 1973, officials said, according to the Boston Globe.

Sumpter was also convicted of assaulting a woman he had met at a Cambridge subway station three years after the murder of Jane Britton. In 1975, he was sentenced to 15-20 years in prison for raping a woman in her Boston apartment. He died of cancer at the age of 54 in 2001, just 13 months after he was paroled for the 1975 rape, officials said.

In an email to Boston.com, Britton’s brother, Boyd Britton, who’s now a reverend living in California, said the family was grateful to finally have an answer about his sister’s grisly death, the website reports.

“A half century of mystery and speculation has clouded the brutal crime that shattered Jane’s promising young life and our family. The DNA evidence ‘match’ may be all we ever have as a conclusion,” Britton wrote.

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