New DNA tests solve 1991 New Jersey boardwalk rape, murder case

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Sunday, February 2, 2020

FREEHOLD, New Jersey -- Authorities say new DNA tests have allowed them to solve the rape and murder of a woman whose body was found at the boardwalk of a seaside city in New Jersey nearly three decades ago.

The Monmouth County prosecutor's office said Friday that Clarence Turnage, who died in 2014, has been identified as the attacker, but they are still trying to confirm that Christa Engel was the woman whose body was found under a ramp at the Asbury Park boardwalk in March 1991.

Prosecutors said Engel, who was born in West Germany and was married in New Jersey in 1961, had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled. A suspect was charged initially but later exonerated after initial tests on DNA taken from the crime scene.

New tests were sought in 2018 from a private forensic laboratory "in light of the more recent advances and innovations in DNA testing technology," prosecutors said. Authorities also received permission to exhume Turnage's body to obtain a DNA sample for a direct comparison.

In February 2019, prosecutors said, tests confirmed that Turnage's DNA matched DNA profiles from the victim's dress, stockings and body, three profiles not tested in 1991 when the case was originally under investigation. Tests on other items also confirmed the exclusion of the original suspect, prosecutors said.

At the time of the homicide, Turnage lived about 300 yards away from where the victim's body was found and a block away from the hotel where she was living at the time, prosecutors said.

In January, prosecutors tried to reaffirm the identity of the victim as Engel since investigators had been unable to identify any next of kin. Prosecutors said they hoped release of the information and conclusion of the investigation would prompt a relative of the victim, whose name was Christa Dierolf before her marriage, to come forward.


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