HAZLE TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — State police identified the man they say raped and murdered nine-year-old Marise Chiverella from Hazleton in 1964, ending one of the oldest cold cases in the nation.
Details pertaining to the 57-year-old cold case homicide of Marise Chiverella of Hazleton were released by Pennsylvania State Police during a press conference, Thursday.
Investigators say DNA technology conclusively shows James Paul Forte, from Hazleton, was the killer. He died in 1980 of natural causes. But he had a long criminal record.
Troopers say Forte was never on their radar regarding the Chiverella murder but had been arrested for other violent crimes in the 1970s. In 1974, Forte was arrested by PSP for sexual assault and in 1978, Hazleton City Police arrested him for reckless endangerment and harassment charges.
This is a day many people in Hazleton thought would never come, including the Chiverella family. Those who grew up in the area say the unsolved murder cast a long dark shadow over this community.
State Police say this is the man (pictured above) who murdered nine-year-old Marise Chiverella. James Paul Forte who died in 1980 from natural causes.
Troopers say he was 22 when he kidnapped, raped, and murdered Chiverella on the morning of March 18, 1964. DNA and genealogy tracing led state police to Forte and his bodily fluids were found on Chiverella’s clothing.
“We’re always told not to get attached to a case, but can’t help it. it’s a vivid memory for everybody who lived through this and it’s a vivid memory for everybody who grew up in the area,” said Lead Investigator Corporal Mark Baron.
Eric Schubert is a genealogist who helped identify Forte as the killer. Forte’s remains were exhumed in January to obtain a DNA sample. That sample provided the final piece needed to confirm Forte was the killer.
“Everything that had to go right, did,” said Schubert. “We just kept chugging forward with these really small DNA samples until we got the big fish which we did in Mr. Forte.”
“Today is a very important day,” Corporal Baron said. ” This is the fourth-oldest cold case in the nation to be solved utilizing this technology, which makes it the oldest in the state. What happened to her ushered in a change in this community, whether you liked it or not. This is a day the family has been waiting for nearly 58 years.”
You can watch the full press conference of the Pennsylvania State Police in the video player below:
Schubert explained that they had a distant match, from a family in Weatherly who donated their DNA and using samples from that family they found a match to an open homicide in 1972, which lead them to James Paul Forte.
“We worked as a team and found the answers and it was a big honor to have assisted in this case,” Schubert said.
Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce spoke at the press conference about the time and effort put into this case.
“The dedication to this case is what solved it. It is our greatest regret that we can’t prosecute this individual but as the family says, he will see vengeance,” Sanguedolce said.
State troopers say they never gave up on solving the case. Chiverella’s family tells Eyewitness News they never gave up hope there would be justice for Marise.
“I feel a sense of closure. I don’t have closure, that it’s all behind me. As Carmen said we’re all going to have memories of that horrible day,” Marise’s brother Ron said.
But for the first time since that day in March of 1964, they know who killed their sister. State police say DNA points conclusively to James Paul Forte from Hazleton. He died in 1980 at the age of 38.
Investigators say he was 22 when he kidnapped Marise Chiverella as she walked to school on the morning of March 18, 1964. DNA evidence found at the scene and technological advances in the use of DNA helped track Forte.
For this family, closure and peace will take time.
“We’ll continue to ask questions we did in the past. What could have been? What would have been? What nieces and nephews? It’ll never be known because of the loss of Marise,” Ron said.
“The sense that we now know but it doesn’t change any of the hurt that was caused by what this man did,” said Carmen Marie Radtke, Marise’s sister.
Chiverella’s brothers and sisters spoke about how Marise’s murder is always with them. They also personally thanked law enforcement and ‘the front-line team’ for their dedication to their sister’s case.
“Over the past 58 years the Pennsylvania State Police have continuously worked this case and a special thanks to the front line team, our family thanks you so much,” said Ron.
“We have so many precious memories of Marise. But at the same time, our family will always feel the emptiness and sorrow of her absence, consequently, we will continue to ask ourselves what would’ve been? What could’ve been? So how does our family further embrace a sense of closure for the harm done to Marise? Our parents expressed their sentiments a long time ago. They didn’t want punishment or revenge. They wanted justice,” expressed Radtke.
At the news conference, Thursday was former State Trooper, 89-year-old Don Good. He was one of the lead investigators on the case in 1964. He says they worked around the clock. Chiverella’s murder stayed with him all these years.
“The barracks got calls. Any little that we fit. People were calling us giving us what they thought were leads and it was a lead. At least it gave us the opportunity to discount those people,” Good said.
Chiverella’s parents passed away never knowing who killed their daughter. And the family says they never knew Forte.