Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today announced the identification of a suspect in a previously unsolved 1972 murder, saying that the same man – who died in 2001 – also raped a woman in 1985.
After a renewed investigation bolstered by forensic technology unavailable at the times of the offenses, Davis and Conley named MICHAEL SUMPTER (D.O.B. 9/26/47) of Roxbury as the prime suspect in two attacks in Boston’s Back Bay: the 1972 murder of Ellen Rutchick, 23, in her Beacon Street residence and the 1985 rape of a 21-year-old woman in her Marlboro Street residence.
Sumpter died of cancer in 2001 while serving a 15- to 20-year sentence for an unrelated 1975 rape at a third woman’s Beacon Street residence. His identity as a suspect in the other attacks came to light only after DNA evidence linked him first to the 1985 case and subsequently to the 1972 case.
“Today’s announcement marks another success for the Boston Police Cold Case Squad while also hopefully providing the Rutchick family with a long-awaited sense of peace and justice for their loved one,” Davis said. “The identification of this suspect is also a true testament to the remarkable advances made by forensic technology and the work of the Boston Police Crime Lab.”
“Were Sumpter alive today, we would indict him for murder and expect to prevail at trial,” Conley said. “The Boston Police investigation was thorough 38 years ago and the scientific evidence is very strong today.”
In 2002, Sumpter was identified as the Dec. 11, 1985, assailant amid an early 21st century project to re-investigate unsolved sexual assaults using DNA evidence. Biological evidence recovered from the crime scene was uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a database of DNA samples from unsolved crimes and known offenders.
That uploaded biological evidence was a “hit” – a match to a known suspect, later identified as Sumpter, who had been ordered to provide a DNA sample to the database after his rape conviction. Sumpter was already dead, however, and could not be charged.
In 2005, independent of this development, members of Rutchick’s family contacted Boston Police Department’s Cold Case Squad to see if her Jan. 6, 1972, murder could be reviewed for potential leads. Because Rutchick had also been sexually assaulted, detectives attempted to upload biological evidence found at the scene but were unable to do so because of the manner in which it had been affixed to slides in the 1970s.
Investigators sent the slides to an independent laboratory specializing in DNA analysis, which was ultimately able to isolate a genetic profile from the slides. That profile was uploaded to CODIS and, in July 2009, hit on Sumpter’s profile.
The 2005 “hit” linking Sumpter to the 1985 rape was the 30th match to a Suffolk County case made by the CODIS program. The 2009 “hit” four years later to the 1972 murder was the 663rd match to a Suffolk case. The CODIS database currently holds about 7 million DNA profiles.
Rutchick’s murder is the oldest Suffolk County case to have been solved using CODIS; in late 2008, the program linked a 60-year-old Georgia man to a 1984 sexual assault and homicide in Roxbury. That suspect, SULTAN OMAR CHEZULU, born ROBERT LOUIS SCOTT (D.O.B. 10/2/48), is expected to face trial later this year for the murder of 18-year-old Elsie “Yolanda” Hernandes.
Another man, JERRY DIXON (D.O.B. 4/19/73), was identified through CODIS as the assailant in four rapes between 1989 and 1991, including an attack for which an innocent man was wrongly convicted and imprisoned. Before Dixon was identified through a DNA sample he submitted in 2007, Suffolk prosecutors indicted the unique genetic profile of the then-unknown attacker to ensure that the assailant could be charged even after the statute of limitations expired. Dixon is also expected to face trial later this year.
“I am proud of the tenacious pursuit of justice consistently put forth by Boston Police investigators and Suffolk County prosecutors,” Davis said. “This development demonstrates that although sometimes justice may be delayed, with dogged detective work, dedicated prosecutors and highly-skilled crime lab technicians, justice does not have to be denied.”
“A case like this can sometimes leave loved ones and others feeling cheated that justice couldn’t be done in time,” Conley said. “Obviously, we hope this development is a source of comfort rather than frustration for them. After all, Ellen’s killer faces a far harsher judgment in the next world than any court could mete out in this one.”