DNA testing helps Juab County authorities identify two victims in cold cases from 1996 and 1978

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JUAB COUNTY, Utah — Two victims in cold case homicides from 1996 and 1978 have been identified after authorities in Juab County submitted evidence for DNA testing, and the victims are a 4-year-old boy from Reno, Nevada and a 33-year-old woman from Long Beach, California.

According to a press release from the Juab County Sheriff’s Office, the first case relates to a human skull that was recovered along with some bones and hair at Juab Lake in November of 1996.

The case was treated as a homicide and the details listed in national databases regarding unidentified persons. In November of 2013, Lt. Craig Ryan of the Juab County Sheriff’s Office arranged for evidence to be released from the State Medical Examiner’s Office, and a bone was sent to the University of North Texas Health Science Center for DNA testing.

In January of 2014, Lt. Ryan received confirmation from the center that the bone was matched to 4-year-old Rene A. Romero. After following up on the case, local authorities learned Rene was murdered in Reno, Nevada on November 24, 1994. The boy’s mother and stepfather, Ana Romero and Alvaro Ortiz, were prosecuted and sentenced for the murder even though the boy’s body had not yet been found.

Ortiz is reportedly serving a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole, and Ana Romero was released from prison and is on parole.

The second cold case first came about in September of 1978 when the sheriff’s office responded to reports of a woman’s body at Yuba Reservoir. The woman was determined to have been killed by strangulation, and though the woman’s details were compared to various missing persons profiles she was not identified.

In 2013, Davis County Sheriff’s Office provided an evidence sample to Juab County “that had been in Davis County evidence, unknown to anyone since 1978. Due to [a] chain of evidence, that sample was not used.”

In 2014, that hair sample was also sent to University of North Texas, and in August of 2015 Juab County was notified the sample was matched to a woman reported missing out of Long Beach, Califronia since August 22 of 1978. The victim is identified as 33-year-old Marilee Bruszer.

Long Beach authorities stated that with positive identification of the victim, they would reopen the case as a homicide and attempt to follow new leads.

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