DNA identifies victim in 30-year-old Bull Run Mountain cold case
Jun 13, 2012 (Menafn - News & Messenger - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --HAYMARKET, Va. -- On April 3, 1980, 18-year-old Cynthia Joan Gastelle, left her Takoma Park, Md. home and her family members never heard from her again.
Almost two years later, on Feb. 12, 1982, a hiker found a young woman's skeletal remains off Mountain Road in Haymarket.
For the past three decades, police in Takoma Park have been trying to find out what happened to Gastelle and police in Prince William County have been trying to identify the young woman found on Bull Run Mountain.
This year, through DNA evidence, police determined that the woman found in Prince William County is Gastelle.
Now they're asking for the public's help to determine what happened to her.
At a news conference Wednesday police said they are investigating the case as a homicide and asked that anyone with information about Gastelle's disappearance or death contact them.
Gastelle's brother, Peter Gastelle, said his family never gave up hope that Cindy, the youngest of five siblings, would be found alive.
"Thirty-two years ago, she walked out of the house never to be seen again," said Peter, who was 20 when his sister disappeared. "From then until now we were always hopeful that somehow Cindy would come back to us. ...That hope is now gone and our hearts are broken."
Takoma Park Police Lt. Tyrone Collington said Gastelle's father reported her missing on April 17, 1980.
Wednesday, her siblings said Gastelle, who lived with her father and stepmother, was attending job interviews at delicatessens in Silver Spring on the day she disappeared. They know she went to at least one interview, because a manager called the house that evening to say she got the job.
Gastelle did not drive and planned to take the bus to her job interviews, her family members said.
Police entered Gastelle into a national missing person's database, interviewed family members and friends, and were unable to find her, Collington said.
Similarly, in Prince William County, police worked to identify the woman whose bones were found in 1982, but had no luck, said Detective Brian Coady.
In 2001, DNA from the Prince William County case was entered into the national database, but got no hits.
Last year, police collected DNA from Gastelle's family members to compare against another missing person case in another jurisdiction.
While that case did not result in a match, on May 10, police were notified that the bones found in Prince William County were those of Gastelle.
Gastelle has no known connection to Prince William County and until the DNA evidence came back, police had no reason to suspect that the remains found in the Haymarket area could be hers.
"Until the DNA match was made, we had no idea this case was connected to Maryland at all," Coady said.
Coady said police have reason to believe the case is homicide, but would not comment on the details. He also said that police believe she was brought to the Haymarket area, but said police do not know the circumstances.
Gastelle's siblings said police contacted their family several times over the years, when human remains were found.
"Several times different departments reached out to us," Peter Gastelle said. "My father, bless his heart, had to look at photographs of remains over the years."
Greg Gastelle, another brother, said their father also made many trips to morgues, but none of the trips ever resulted in finding Cindy.
"One of the best things about this is we never have to worry about getting that phone call again," Greg Gastelle said after the press conference.
Peter Gastelle said their mother, who died in 1993, and his father, who died in 2001, never stopped looking for Cindy.
"Our parents never gave up hope that she would be found," he said.
Police are asking for the public's help to identify a man who they believe was Gastelle's boyfriend at the time. An enlarged photograph of the man, who had long hair and wore sunglasses in the photo, was displayed at the news conference.
Police said they man, who may be named Mike or Michael, is not suspect in Gastelle's case, but they want to speak to him.
Gastelle's siblings said they did not know much about the man, who police say was around Gastelle's age at the time of her disappearance.
"The only thing I knew about him is he was into the band Journey," Greg Gastelle said.
Peter Gastelle said he believes that his sister and the man ended their relationship shortly before her disappearance.
Gastelle's siblings remembered her as a "vibrant" young woman.
"She was full of life, you know," Peter Gastelle said. "She laughed a lot."
"She loved to dance," added Karen Cooley, the oldest of the siblings, who brought a stack of faded family photographs with her to the news conference.
When asked if he ever thought his younger sister had been murdered, Peter Gastelle looked down at the ground for a second before answering.
"Let me put it this way, we all knew it was in the realm of possibilities," he said. "It just didn't jibe well with our hope, so we didn't dwell on it."
The Gastelles said they hope anyone with information about what happened to their youngest sister contact police.
"We just don't want this to happened to someone else," Peter Gastelle said.
"We can't do anything for our sister now, but if we can spare another family from this pain, well, that's the hope," said Greg Gastelle.
Prince William County police ask that anyone with information about the case call Crime Solvers at 703-670-3700 or 1-866-411-TIPS. You don't have to give your name, just the information and you could earn up to a 1,000 cash reward.
Takoma Park police said that anyone with information about Gastelle's disappearance can also call their department at 301-270-1100.
"This is an older case and we're asking for the public's to come forward with any information they may have," said Prince William County police spokesman Jonathan Perok.
Staff writer Amanda Stewart can be reached at 703-530-3908.
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