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Murder of teenage girl found dead in Towson 40 years ago is solved, Baltimore County police say

Heather Porter, a 13-year-old girl who was found dead in Towson in 1981. Baltimore County police say DNA evidence has now revealed she was killed by a now dead Halethorpe resident.
Heather Porter, a 13-year-old girl who was found dead in Towson in 1981. Baltimore County police say DNA evidence has now revealed she was killed by a now dead Halethorpe resident. (Baltimore County Police Department)

Baltimore County police say they’ve solved a 40-year-old homicide, announcing Wednesday that a 13-year-old girl who was found strangled to death in 1981 was killed by a Halethorpe man who has since died.

The police department wrote in a news release that DNA evidence has proven that former Halethorpe resident John Anthony Petrecca Jr. killed Heather Porter in September 1981. Petrecca lived near where the teenager was last seen, police said.

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Porter went missing on Sept. 23, 1981, and was found dead the next day in a wooded area near Ridgewood Road and Goucher Boulevard in Towson. An autopsy determined that she’d been sexually assaulted and strangled, however, police say DNA technology was not then advanced enough to use the genetic material taken from the scene to identify a suspect.

The DNA sample was analyzed last year by Bode Technology. which forwarded the results to the FBI, the department said.

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Heather Porter, 13, was found dead in Towson in 1981. Baltimore County police said Wednesday that new technology helped them use old DNA evidence collected at the crime scene to identify her killer.
Heather Porter, 13, was found dead in Towson in 1981. Baltimore County police said Wednesday that new technology helped them use old DNA evidence collected at the crime scene to identify her killer. (Baltimore County Police Department)

Police said that the results identified Petrecca as a potential suspect in February. The department said Petrecca had been arrested on rape charges in the 1960s and ‘70s and lived in the 100 block of Ridge Ave., a short distance from where Porter was last seen.

The department said Petrecca died in 2000 and was buried at a local cemetery, where officers and members of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office exhumed his body on March 11 after receiving authorization from the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office to do so, the department wrote.

Police say that a lab analysis determined Nov. 12 that DNA recovered from his body matched the suspect’s DNA recovered from the original crime scene.

Sue Yutzy, a childhood friend of Porter who said she was the last person to see her before she went missing, said she’s been calling the department for years to keep the pressure on detectives to not forget the murder.

Yutzy, 55, said Wednesday that her stomach “has been in absolute knots” ever since the department told her weeks ago that a suspect had been identified.

She said her friend’s death severely impacted her development in the years following. She said she was walking with Porter the day she went missing and left her only blocks away from her home before she was reported missing.

“As a 14-year-old ... waking up the next day to find out my best friend was murdered ... I couldn’t function for years,” Yutzy said.

She said Porter had a passion for art and drawing and was a huge Paul McCartney fan, who baked the musician cakes for his birthday every year.

She added that the two were loyal to one another, which fueled her desire to see her murder solved all these years later.

“I’m the kind of friend you have for a lifetime and Heather was the same kind of person,” she said.

Attempts to reach members of Petrecca’s surviving family were unsuccessful.

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