When Christy Mirack didn’t show up to teach her sixth-grade class a few days before Christmas, her boss, Harry Goodman, immediately knew something was wrong.
Goodman, then the principal at Rohrerstown Elementary School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, hopped in his car and headed toward the young teacher’s apartment, hoping he would spot her changing a flat tire on the side of the road.
When he arrived at Mirack’s home on the morning of December 21, 1992, he discovered a gruesome scene: the 25-year-old teacher had been raped, beaten and strangled to death.
Police worked around the clock to unravel the mystery of Mirack’s violent death. But, for 26 years, the case remained unsolved, which only deepened the feelings of grief and loss among Mirack’s devoted family members, friends and colleagues.
“I never stopped thinking of Christy,” Goodman tells A&E True Crime.
Christy Mirack’s case was subject of an episode of A&E’s Cold Case Files on September 10, 2021. [Watch the episode here on A&E’s website and apps.]
After years of dead ends and disappointment, investigators got a break in the case when they learned about a novel, crime-solving DNA technique called genetic genealogy that was still in its infancy. The investigative technique uses family links in public genealogy databases to identify an unknown suspect.
In 2019, they used this cutting-edge tool to track down Mirack’s killer—a local DJ named Raymond Charles Rowe—and bring a small amount of peace to her family and friends.
The Christy Mirack Case Goes Cold
Though investigators eventually succeeded in prosecuting Mirack’s murderer, the journey to justice was a long and complicated one.
When Goodman found Mirack’s body on that cold December morning in 1992, she was wearing a coat and gloves, which led police to believe she had been getting ready for work. They found a wooden cutting board next to her body, which they believed someone had used to violently attack her. Those clues suggested the killer had been emotional and disorganized.
Police were also struck by the sheer brazenness of the crime, which had occurred during daylight hours within a roughly 45-minute window between when Mirack’s roommate left for work at 7 a.m. and when Mirack usually left for work around 7:45 a.m. Investigators believed that the perpetrator had been watching Mirack or was someone who knew her schedule.
They interviewed witnesses, talked to Mirack’s friends and family, looked into her past and checked out every lead, but nothing led them to her killer. Police gathered DNA evidence from Mirack’s body and from the crime scene, but it didn’t turn up any matches when they entered it into the FBI’s national DNA database—another dead end. Eventually, the case went cold.
Police Use Genetic Genealogy to Solve Mirack’s Case
In 2015, 23 years after Mirack’s violent death, the Lancaster County district attorney’s office took over the cold case. Christine Wilson, a Lancaster County prosecutor who was a senior in high school at the time of Mirack’s murder, says she always felt a personal connection to the case and thought it could benefit from a fresh set of eyes. She began pouring over the case files, often spending her nights and weekends reading and re-reading thousands of pages of reports.
“Years passed by, the family was becoming very frustrated, investigators were becoming frustrated and the public was also very frustrated,” Wilson told the producers of Cold Case Files. “The public was frustrated that this murder had occurred of this young, thriving female. And there were no answers.”
Investigators believed that DNA had the potential to solve the case, so they began working with Parabon NanoLabs, a company that specializes in DNA analysis. Using the DNA found at the crime scene, the company created a sketch of Mirack’s likely perpetrator.
Though the sketch generated plenty of leads for investigators to pursue, none of them led to Mirack’s killer. Inspired by the use of DNA techniques used to identify the infamous “Golden State Killer,” the company uploaded the suspect’s DNA to a public genealogy database, which produced the names of several distant relatives.
Parabon investigators began building a family tree and eventually zeroed in on a suspect: Rowe, a 49-year-old disc jockey who went by the name “DJ Freez.” No one knew how—or if—Rowe and Mirack knew each other.
Lancaster County investigators began following Rowe, gathering up his discarded water bottles and chewing gum to compare his DNA to the profile found at the crime scene. He was a perfect match.
Where Is Raymond Charles Rowe Now?
In June 2018, they arrested Rowe for Mirack’s murder. In January 2019, Rowe pleaded guilty to Mirack’s rape and murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
When he entered his guilty plea in 2019, Rowe did not explain why he murdered Mirack—and her friends and family may never know the truth about his motives.
He’s currently being held in the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Waymart, but is now trying to get a new trial. On August 26, 2021, he took the stand and claimed he lied during his original guilty plea, and that he and Mirack had a sexual relationship. He said they were intimate on the day of her murder, but that someone else killed her.
Despite the lingering questions, for Wilson, the resolution of this long-standing case is proof that persistence pays off and that it’s never too late to seek justice for victims and give closure to their families.
“Cold cases are so important to continue working because a person murdered 30 or 40 years ago is no less significant than a person murdered last week,” says Wilson. “Family members of cold case homicide victims are living in a horrible state of constant sadness due to the great unknown. It was very rewarding to be one of the team members to obtain justice for Christy’s family.”
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