Alleged killer identified in 33-year-old Dade County homicide cold case

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Suspect died in a car accident 23 years ago

The identity of a man believed to have killed a woman in Dade County almost 34 years ago has been revealed using genealogical DNA.

Officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FBI announced Henry Fredrick Wise as the man believed to have been responsible for the death of Stacey Chahorski in December 1988. Wise, a truck driver and stunt driver, burned to death in a car accident at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina in 1999.

GBI Director Michael Register said through the past three decades, the GBI has been working the case to try to identify not only the victim but the killer as well.

“This validates that we are never going to give up. We are here as an advocate for each and every victim and we are not going to stop until we exhaust every avenue to try to solve a crime,” Register said. “As technology evolves, we are going to use any technology available to help us solve crimes.”

Credit: GBI

Credit: GBI

FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Keri Farley said the case marked the first time in the country genealogy DNA technology has been used to identify both the victim and the alleged killer in the same case.

The investigation began on Dec. 16, 1988, after the Dade County Sheriff’s Office and the GBI were called to a scene where two DOT workers located a body, about five miles from the Alabama state line on I-59 in an area known as Rising Fawn, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

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For years, investigators tried to identify the body, even making clay renderings and drawing composites to try to recreate what the victim had looked like. The case was reassigned in the mid-2000s and additional evidence was found that could potentially identify the body, according to the GBI.

The evidence was sent to the FBI Lab in Washington D.C. for further testing, where analysts developed a DNA profile of the victim before entering it in the missing persons DNA database.

The case was reassigned again in 2015. The GBI contacted the FBI about the possibility of using a new type of genealogy technology to identify the victim, since it had already been used to solve other cold cases nationwide.

In a press conference earlier this year, the GBI announced the body had been identified as Chahorski, of Norton Shores, Michigan. Still, the case remained unsolved until the alleged killer was identified.

“Investigators found what was believed to be the killer’s DNA at the scene but, for years, it could not be linked to a person. Once the FBI became involved, the DNA was traced back and the investigation revealed Wise had a living family member who was interviewed, cooperated and a DNA match was confirmed,” Farley said Tuesday.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

GBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Montgomery broke the news to Mary Beth Smith, Chahorski’s mother, and said she was overwhelmed and upset but also at peace. He read a statement from Smith Tuesday in which she thanked all the law enforcement agencies and agents who worked in solving the case.

Chahoski last talked to her mother on the phone in September 1988, telling her she planned to go to North Carolina first and then to Michigan. Smith reported Chahoski missing a month later, stating she had not talked to her in months.

Chahoski’s remains were returned to her family.

Montgomery said Wise was a truck driver who lived in the Carolinas and Florida and would travel the Dade County area, including the route where Chahorski was found, on a regular basis as part of his route through Chattanooga to Birmingham to Nashville.

Investigators discovered Wise had a criminal history in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina which included theft, assault and obstruction of a police officer. However, his arrests predated mandatory DNA testing after felony arrests. No motive has been determined in the killing and Montgomery didn’t rule out Wise could be responsible for other killings.

“It’s possible. We have his DNA now so, if there are, they should come to light now,” he said.

Farley said technology helped solve the case but it was the determination of every law enforcement officer and agent involved that gave some answers to Chahorski’s family.

“To any victim of violent crime, the FBI and our entire law enforcement community in Georgia will never give up and that we’ll use any technological advancement we can to seek justice for you and your family,” Farley said. “Let this serve as a warning to every murderer, rapist and violent offender out there, the FBI and our partners will not give up.”