For more than 40 years, investigators were confounded by the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a pregnant New Jersey teenager whose unidentified remains were found in several suitcases along a riverbank in Pennsylvania, along with a nearly full-term fetus.
It wasn’t until this month that relatives of Evelyn Colon, who was 15 years old when she disappeared in 1976, said they had learned from the authorities that the remains that had been dumped beneath a highway overpass along the Lehigh River in Carbon County were hers.
Raped, strangled, shot and dismembered, and her fetus removed, she became known as Beth Doe to investigators, who had asked for the public’s help in identifying her and had chased some false leads.
Then on Wednesday, Luis Sierra, a Queens man who was 19 at the time and who the local news media reported was Evelyn’s live-in boyfriend in Jersey City, was arrested in her death, the authorities said.
Mr. Sierra, 63, of Ozone Park, was charged with one count of criminal homicide and was awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania, the State Police there announced.
A niece of Evelyn’s said in an interview on Thursday that investigators had used a DNA sample from Evelyn’s nephew that had been collected around late 2017 as part of an ancestry kit to help identify the remains. The niece, Miriam Colon-Veltman, said her brother had wanted to learn more about his heritage and had elected to keep his genetic profile public in hopes of locating his missing aunt.
The remains, which were found in December 1976, had been exhumed in 2007 in an attempt to glean new information about the victim’s identity after advances in DNA analysis, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., reported. Last year, investigators checked the DNA collected from the remains against publicly available genetic material that included the sample from Evelyn’s nephew, the newspaper reported. That proved to be a breakthrough in the case.
“We never thought this would be the way we would find her,” Ms. Colon-Veltman said. “We thought she was out there living her life. The hope that she was living her life, and the hope was that we would reconnect with her one day and find out why she wasn’t around.”
In a news release, the Pennsylvania State Police said on Wednesday that “numerous interviews and investigational processes were conducted following her identification which led to the development of a suspect.” The agency added that it would release further details about the case in the near future.
Additional details about what led investigators to Mr. Sierra were not provided by the Pennsylvania State Police or the Carbon County district attorney’s office, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
Court records did not list a lawyer for Mr. Sierra.
Miriam Colon-Veltman declined to discuss how investigators had connected Mr. Sierra to Evelyn’s death, saying she did not want to compromise the prosecution.
During the killing, Evelyn’s ears and breasts were removed from her body, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which said her remains had been shoved into three suitcases and thrown from a westbound highway overpass off Interstate 80 in the borough of East Side, Pa. The site is about 110 miles from Jersey City and about 20 miles southeast of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Evelyn is buried in White Haven, Pa., with a cross and a nameplate that says “Beth Doe.” Her family is raising money to pay for a memorial service.
“She was very loved and very cared for,” Ms. Colon-Veltman said. “She wasn’t alone. She wasn’t cast aside in life or tossed like she was in the river. She wasn’t a runaway.”
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.