By Lea Skene
MILLERSVILLE, Md. – More than half a century after Maryland high school student Pamela Conyers was found strangled to death following her disappearance from a local mall, law enforcement officials announced Friday that they finally solved the case.
But the suspect, Forrest Clyde Williams III — whom detectives identified using DNA technology and genetic research — died in 2018 of natural causes. Officials have not linked him to other unsolved crimes, leaving many unanswered questions for residents of the close-knit suburban community outside Baltimore.
The night of Conyers’ disappearance, the 16-year-old attended a high school pep rally and then drove to the mall. Her parents reported her missing when she never returned from running errands. Four days later, authorities discovered her body in a wooded area not far from the family car she had been driving.
There was no evidence to suggest Conyers knew her accused killer, Anne Arundel County police officials said at a news conference Friday. They also said they have not ruled out the possibility that another suspect was involved, meaning the case is not yet considered closed.
Federal and local officials praised detectives for pursuing a decades-long quest for justice in the case.
“We are pleased to deliver some measure of justice for Pamela Conyers and her loved ones,” said FBI Agent Tom Sobocinski. “Cases may go cold, investigators may change, but this proves that for law enforcement, victims are never forgotten.”
Detectives used DNA analysis and a process called investigative genetic genealogy, both of which did not exist when Conyers was killed in 1970, Sobocinski said.
When investigators collected evidence from the crime scene in 1970, they had no idea how it might later be used. But cold case investigators recently developed a DNA profile that they compared to information available in publicly available genealogical databases, officials said. That allowed them to identify potential relatives of the suspect, create a family tree and ultimately pinpoint Williams. He declined to specify which relatives led them to Williams or to describe the process in detail.
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But Sobocinski said the case demonstrates how evolving technology is allowing law enforcement to solve cold cases, a process that “has given hope where previously there was none.”
Such genealogy studies have revolutionized cold case investigations across the country in recent years, although privacy advocates have expressed concern about the implications of law enforcement gaining access to public genealogical databases.
[RELATED: Leveraging forensic genetic genealogy to solve cold cases]
Anne Arundel County officials provided little information about Williams, saying only that he had a scant criminal history and spent most of his life in Virginia. He was 21 when Conyers was killed.
Officials said his family moved to Maryland when Williams was a teenager and he attended an Anne Arundel County high school. He moved back to Virginia sometime later. Police produced an old mugshot of Williams from the early 1970s and said he was arrested locally on minor charges, including being drunk and disorderly. Online court records did not include a reference to that arrest, although they do show he received a citation for fishing without a license in 1990.
Calls to phone numbers linked to his relatives were not immediately returned Friday.
Williams was survived by two children and many other relatives, according to his obituary.
“If he was still alive, he would have been charged with the murder of Pamela Conyers,” Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal Awad said during Friday’s news conference.
Officials said the Conyers family had requested privacy.
Michael Golden, a high school classmate of Conyers, said the announcement brought a sense of closure — but also raised more questions. Golden attended the press conference with his high school yearbook in hand and opened it to a photo of Conyers.
“It’s still frustrating because I don’t know anything about this guy,” he said of the suspect. “It’s something that all of our classmates … have struggled with all these years.”
Golden, who befriended Conyers during band practice, said he clearly remembers when she disappeared. He remembered a picture of her empty desk in trigonometry class the Monday morning after her disappearance.
“I’m still grieving her death,” he said. “I grew old and she didn’t. She’s forever 16.”
David Wells, another longtime community member whose wife went to school with Conyers, said he was serving in the Air Force when the case unfolded. He recalled being stationed in Hawaii and receiving letters from family members about the tragedy back home.
Wells said he was surprised to learn that detectives did not believe her killing was connected to other cold-blooded murders involving young female victims around the same time.
While the investigation remains open, officials said detectives do not believe the Conyers case is connected to the slaying of Catherine Ann Cesnik, a Baltimore nun who disappeared from a local mall and was later found dead of blunt force trauma. That case was featured in a 2017 Netflix documentary, “The Keepers.”