A New York man has been arrested in the cold-case slaying of a pregnant New Jersey teenager whose remains were found on a riverbank in eastern Pennsylvania more than four decades ago, authorities said.
A criminal homicide charge was filed Wednesday against 63-year-old Luis Sierra of Ozone Park, New York, state police said. Police said numerous interviews and other police work over the decades resulted in the arrest in the 1976 death of 15-year-old Evelyn Colon of Jersey City.
Troopers were called five days before Christmas in 1976 to investigate human remains found on the bank of the Lehigh River just outside of White Haven in Carbon County. The remains found in three suitcases beneath an Interstate 80 overpass were those of a female and a nearly full-term fetus, police said.
The death of the female was long ruled a homicide and authorities had asked for help from the public in identifying the remains. Forty-four years later, the remains have been identified as those of Colon, police said Wednesday.
For decades, the family of Evelyn thought she was a teenage runaway. They had no idea she was buried in a Pennsylvania grave marked "Beth Doe."
At the time, Evelyn's boyfriend was 19-year-old Sierra, investigators said. After she disappeared from her home on Sixth Street in Jersey, her family got a letter, written in Spanish, describing that Evelyn had the baby and was doing well. The letter indicated that if Evelyn needed anything, she would reach out.
According to court papers, Sierra allegedly shot the 15-year-old in the neck, severed her head and cut off her nose, ears, arms and legs before she put her remains in suitcases.
Evelyn's nephew, Louis Colon Jr., told NBC New York on Thursday that the letter convinced them not to search for her.
"That did not even cross the mind of anyone that she was murdered," he said.
After discarding Evelyn's body, authorities said Sierra went on to live his life and eventually settled at his Queens home. NBC New York knocked on his door on Thursday but no one answered.
Police may have never found Sierra if it wasn't for Louis who, on a whim, submitted his DNA to several commercial genetics website in hope to find a cousin he never met: Evelyn's unborn baby.
"I always felt a connection with her, which is why I decided to upload my DNA purposely on multiple sites," Louis said.
Last year, police connected his DNA to one of Beth Doe's bones. They contacted the Colon family who told them about Sierra. Investigators now believe it was Sierra who wrote that letter years ago, claiming Evelyn was alive.
"I cannot wait to look him in the face and get the justice that we deserve, and we're gonna get it," Louis added. Meanwhile, the Colon family is attempting to bring Evelyn's remains the remains of her unborn baby together for a memorial service, and bring together her family from across the country.
No further information about the case was released, but police promised more “in the near future.” LehighValleyLive said District Attorney Michael Greek declined additional comment Wednesday and the district court in Weatherly where the charges were filed said no more information would be released until the arrest warrant is served.
Sierra is in custody awaiting extradition, police said. Court documents don’t list a defense attorney who could comment on the charge, and a listed number for Sierra couldn’t be found Wednesday.