CLEVELAND – More than four decades after a 17-year-old girl about to start her last year was missing and her body was buried in an unmarked grave in Cleveland, police launched a murder investigation to find out who killed her along a river.
A process that began two years ago has led authorities to confirm that the teenager was outside in a park outside of Cleveland in 1975, Linda Pagano.
Her brother, Mike Pagano, said he “thought it was a dream” when he was told about two weeks ago that his sister’s body was found.
“I thought this day would never come,” Pagano said at a press conference Thursday in the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. “I thought I would die.”
The Akron Beacon Journal first reported how Linda Pagano was identified.
She was reported missing by her stepfather around the Labor Day 1974, a day or two after he had kicked her out of his apartment late back from a concert. Mike Pagano said his sister had been staying with the stepfather for the summer. Linda knew that their stepfather was lonely after divorcing their mother, he said, and Linda was the favorite of his three stepchildren and bought her a car in the summer.
Friends and family searched far and wide for Linda when she did not return to her mother’s house in the neighborhood of Springfield Township. People went door-to-door with the question whether they had seen her, and flyers with her picture.
Cheryl Pagano, Linda’s sister said that she initially thought she would be found alive. Not long after,” she said, when their mother and Linda’s friends were not of her heard of her, “I knew that something happened to her and she was dead.”
Cleveland Metroparks Rangers Lt. Don Sylvis said Thursday that three teenagers hiking in the woods in Strongsville in February 1975 and found skeletal remains, but no other evidence. The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office determined it was a woman in her early 20 who had died from a shotgun wound to the head and ruled her death a homicide. With no other leads to pursue, she was buried in an unmarked grave in a Cleveland cemetery.
It is now up to Metroparks investigators to find her killer. Detectives will begin with the re-interviewing people they can find, Sylvis said.
Asked about the stepfather, who died in 1990, Sylvis said: “I think it would be safe to say that he was a person of the importance of a certain type, but not a suspect. He was the last person to see her.”
The Beacon Journal has reported that the process of identifying her body started to genealogist Christina Scales the find of a reference to the discovery of the remains. They took contact with the Metroparks rangers, received information about the case and uploaded the documents on Reddit. A forensic artist, Carl Koppelman, used a photo in the police file to create a sketch, which he posted on Facebook. He then discovered that the information about the remains had never been listed on a national database for missing persons.
An Akron police detective working missing-persons cases typed Pagano’s name in the database and saw a possible match. Her body was exhumed, and its DNA was finally compared to her brothers and sisters.
Cheryl Pagano said she wasn’t sure what to think when she heard that her sister’s body was found.
“One moment you feel good about and the next you’re not feeling so good,” she said. “There is no middle ground.”
Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com