SOMERSET — Advances in DNA testing have allowed state troops to solve a 35-year-old cold case — in identifying a woman who died in a 1987 accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County.
Investigators said the woman, Linda Jean McClure, 26, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, was a passenger in a semi-truck that crashed in Stonycreek Township on October 22, 1987.
The tractor-trailer hit the fuel tank of another tractor-trailer and caught fire, killing her and the truck’s driver, a California man, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
For years, investigators had few details to identify the woman because police weren’t sure why she was in the truck or where she came from, said Myles Snyder, state police communications director. An autopsy performed at the time confirmed she was a younger woman and blood samples were seized as evidence, he said.
Several attempts have been made over the years to identify her — including a DNA lab test in 2019 — “but it didn’t produce sufficient results” to help investigators close the case, Snyder said.
But the advent of genome sequencing technology saw a breakthrough last year, he said. Genomes are DNA instructions found in human cells – their genetic information.
The sample was tested in August by Texas-based Othram Inc., a private forensic lab that helps law enforcement officials in the US solve cases, its website shows. Snyder said the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission paid for the test.
The results provided enough DNA detail to link the woman to western Pennsylvania, he added.
Police said McClure’s family confirmed McClure hadn’t communicated with them since the 1980s – and her brother submitted a DNA sample for comparison, which confirmed the match.
“The Pennsylvania Turnpike is pleased that we were able to assist the state police with this cold case,” said Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. “We hope this revelation will bring much needed comfort to Ms McClure’s family.”
State Police Major Michael Carroll credited investigators with continuing to follow new leads in the case.
“There were many obstacles in this case, but none that deterred the outcome,” said Carroll, commander of PSP Area II. “I commend the soldiers who remained committed to their duty and ultimately closed this case.”
David Hurst is a reporter for The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat, which, like The Meadville Tribune, is owned by CNHI.