Canadian police said Tuesday they have solved one of the highest-profile cold cases in Quebec history, linking the 1975 rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl to a West Virginia man who died more than 40 years ago.
Police in Longueuil, Quebec, said that DNA evidence allows them to be 100% certain that Franklin Maywood Romine murdered teenager Sharron Prior in the Montreal suburb.
The body of Romine, who was born in 1946 in West Virginia's second largest city of Huntington and died in 1982 at the age of 36 in Verdun, Montreal under mysterious circumstances, was exhumed from a West Virginia cemetery in early May for DNA testing intended to confirm his link to the crime.
Longueuil police say the DNA of Romine — who had a long criminal history — matches a sample found at the murder scene. He also matched a witness' physical description of the suspect.
The rape and killing of Prior had gone unsolved since she disappeared on March 29, 1975, after setting out to meet friends at a pizza parlor near her home in Montreal’s Pointe-St-Charles neighborhood.
Her body was found three days later in a wooded area in Longueuil, on Montreal’s South Shore.
Law enforcement investigated more than 100 suspects over the years, but never made any arrests. Yvonne Prior, the teenager's mother, is now in her 80s, still lives in Canada, and has spent her life searching for her daughter's killer.
Romine’s name didn't come up in investigation until last year, according to WCHS-TV of Charleston, West Virginia. When Longueuil police said started looking through criminal records, they found an extensive history of violence and attempts by Romine to evade law enforcement by moving between West Virginia and Canada.
Romine first attempted escape from the West Virginia Penitentiary in 1964 and later escaped in 1967, according to records obtained by WCHS. Two years later, Romine already had a Canadian rap sheet.
In 1974, he was arrested for breaking into a house and raping a woman in Parkersburg, West Virginia. He was released on a $2,500 bond two months later and fled to Canada, according to an Associated Press story from the time.
Just months after Prior's murder in 1975, Romine was captured by Canadian border officials and extradited back to West Virginia, where he was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison for sexual assault in the Parkersburg case.
He died in Canada in 1982, shortly after his release, although officials say they haven’t been able to find a death certificate detailing the circumstances that lead to his death. His body was returned to his mother in West Virginia, where his family buried him in the Putnam County, West Virginia Pine Grove Cemetery.
When Romine was exhumed last month, local prosecutor Mark Sorsaia called the crime against Prior “the most evil element in the human race.”
“It’s a combination of the most evil element in the human race, contacting the most innocent element in the human race – a child,” he told WCHS. “Some things are worse than death - losing a child like that, for a family, for a mom. To know that your child died that way.”
Gillies reported from Toronto, Canada. Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia.