Genealogy leads to ID of murdered teen found in Virginia drainage ditch 21 years ago

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — More than 21 years after her sister vanished without a trace, Veronique Duperly has some answers.

She now knows what happened to Patricia Agnes Gildawie, known by loved ones as Choubi, after the 17-year-old disappeared in 1975 from Fairfax, Virginia. Skeletal remains found in a drainage ditch in 2001 have been identified through DNA and genetic genealogy as belonging to the missing teen.

Fairfax County police investigators are still searching, however, for whoever put a bullet in Choubi Gildawie’s head.

Duperly recalled the moment she learned that her own DNA matched that of the slain woman.

“Oh my God, I was just so relieved,” Duperly told The Washington Post. “I can stop worrying: ‘Is she in jail? Is she in a prison? Is she hurt?’

“Now I know. Yeah, she was hurt.”

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Fairfax County police Cmdr. Ed O’Carroll, who heads the department’s Major Crimes and Cyber and Forensics Bureau, said the identification, while only part of the mystery, has been more than 47 years in the making.

“Our community should take comfort in knowing that our detectives never stop working these cases,” O’Carroll said in a statement. “Advancements in technology have given my cold case detectives an opportunity to pursue fresh leads and bring some relief to families that have been long suffering with the unknown.”

O’Carroll told the Post that now that investigators know who their victim was, they are actively working the case.

“This killer might have gotten away for 47 years, but we’re closer today than we were yesterday,” he said. “And we’re excited about this development, but our job is far from done.”

Gildawie was born in France in 1958, according to police. She came to the U.S. with her family at the age of 8 months.

Duperly described her sister at 17 as a free and independent spirit. Despite her young age, Gildawie spent most of her time away from home and saw her family every couple of weeks.

The last time Duperly saw her, on Feb. 8, 1975, Gildawie’s body was covered in bruises, she told NBC Washington.

“I said, ‘Well, why are you so black and blue?’” Duperly said. “She said, ‘I fall a lot.’ I said, ‘No, you don’t.’”

Gildawie was dating an older man in his 30s at the time, though Duperly didn’t know his name. All Duperly knew was that he worked at a now-shuttered upholstery store near Church Street and Lawyers Road in Vienna, about 5 miles outside of Fairfax.

The man also had a white Cadillac Eldorado with a red interior.

“He let her drive around in that car,” Duperly told the Post. “I mean, that’s crazy. She was only 17 years old and didn’t have a license.”

When she saw the bruises on her sister’s body, Duperly expressed her concern. Gildawie shrugged off the worry.

When she left Duperly’s home that day, it was the last time the sisters had contact.

Duperly said the police showed little concern about Gildawie’s disappearance, so her family tried to find the missing teen on their own. They didn’t know where to begin looking, however, and did not have the funds to hire a private investigator.

Over the years, as Duperly married and had children, she gave up hope of learning what had become of her sister.

Nothing more was heard of Gildawie until Sept. 27, 2001, in McLean, when a construction crew stumbled upon skeletal remains. The bones, along with some clothes and jewelry, were found in a drainage ditch behind an apartment complex in the 5100 block of Lincoln Circle.

The skull had a gunshot wound.

Initially, the medical examiner and anthropologist who examined the remains determined that the bones belonged to a Black woman in her late teens or early 20s. They also believed the woman’s body had been in the ditch for just a couple of years.

Moving forward with the wrong information, detectives were unable to solve the case.

“Not only were they off by the time frame, but they were also off by the race, which really threw detectives off in their search,” O’Carroll said. “We now think she was murdered not long after she was known alive, which was 1975.”

>> Related story: Genealogists help solve mystery of ‘Christmas Tree Lady’ found dead in cemetery in 1996

Earlier this year, Fairfax County cold case investigators partnered with Othram Inc., a Texas-based lab that works with law enforcement agencies, to solve some of the agency’s cold cases. Othram uses genome sequencing to develop DNA profiles that can then be entered into public DNA databases.

The databases are used to find relatives of the unidentified person.

In July, Othram helped cold case detectives identify Joyce Marilyn Meyer Sommers, 69, as the “Christmas Tree Lady,” a woman found dead by suicide in a Fairfax County cemetery in 1996.

The company used its same techniques in Gildawie’s case.

“Othram’s in-house genealogy team developed investigative leads that were returned to Fairfax County detectives,” Othram said in a statement. “The detectives tracked down a possible relative, and then confirmed the identity of the murdered woman.”

That relative was Duperly’s daughter.

The Post reported that Fairfax County investigators reached out to Duperly, who heard details of the case and immediately thought of her sister. Duperly, who already had her own account on Ancestry.com, gave her data to the detectives.

“When I gave them my DNA, they sent it to the lab while they were sitting here in my living room,” Duperly told NBC Washington. “They had a 100% DNA match within 15 minutes.”

The news was bittersweet for the family. Gildawie and Duperly’s mother, Jacqueline Bradford, died in 2016.

“She was so worried about her,” Duperly said of their mother. “And she never knew whatever happened to her after all these years.”

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Duperly said she plans to have her sister’s remains cremated and spread in the ocean with their mother’s ashes.

Meanwhile, cold case detectives are working hard to find out more about Gildawie’s final days, including the name of her long-ago boyfriend.

“We’re moving fast and furious on this case. We know the killer is still out there,” O’Carroll told the NBC affiliate.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to submit tips through Fairfax County Crime Solvers. Tips can be submitted anonymously by phone at 1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), or through text by texting “FCCS” and the tip to 847411.

Tips can also be submitted online by clicking here.

Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 dollars. Anyone wishing to follow up with a detective should leave their contact information.

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