After 37 years, identity and justice for Jane Doe

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RENO, NV (KOLO) Thirty seven years after her body was found below the Mount Rose Summit, a woman known as Jane Doe has a name, as does her killer.

WCSO: Artist’s reconstruction of Jane Doe created by artist Carl Koppelman alongside 1966 yearbook photo of Mary Silvani

The case was already 11 years old when in 1993, we went to the crime scene with Detective Don Means. He had worked it for some time by then and was frustrated.

"We've checked hundreds of people," he told me then. "If we knew who she was, we'd know who killed her."

Without that starting point, investigators were stuck with what they knew.

DNA leads to identification of victim, suspect in 1982 murder

DNA Detectives: Scientists combining forensics with genealogy break ‘unsolvable’

July 17, 1982, she had walked across Sheep Flat below Mount Rose Summit to the edge of the trees, where she was found shot in the back multiple times.

She was dressed for a day at the beach, a swimsuit beneath her clothes, but carried no ID. A check of area hotels found no sighting of her, no luggage left unclaimed. She didn't match any missing persons reports.

Some details, primarily her dental work, indicated a tie to Europe. Interpol checked. Nothing.

DNA testing had not yet been developed. When it was, evidence collected at the scene was again checked.

"Once we had the DNA of the suspect, sooner or later something's going to break," says retired detective Larry Canfield.

Years went by and again, no match for her or the DNA which could have identified her killer.

Later, detectives would tell us they were following another lead, setting the European connection aside for the theory that she'd once had expensive dental work, but perhaps had become estranged from her family and lacked the resources for follow-up work.

That theory would eventually prove true, and apparently, explain the lack of a missing persons report.

But the real break came a year ago, when sheriff's detectives tried an approach through genealogy, enlisting two organizations--DNA Doe and Identifinders International.

As their experts explained at a May 7, 2019 news conference, their work took them through DNA records not in national criminal databases, through family records and stories, leading to the identity of the victim. Jane Doe was Mary Silvani, born in Detroit.

Others working through family trees seeking her killer reached an apparent dead end at one point. It was solved by the discovery of a previously-unknown illegitimate birth which led them to their suspect, James Richard Curry, born in Texas.

Detective Kathleen Bishop remembers the moment.

"I was ecstatic because I was able to confirm for the forensic genealogists and for DNA Doe projects that this really works, and you're seeing it in all these cold cases and that's why they're being solved."

There will be no reckoning for Curry. After confessing to three murders in the south Bay Area, he committed suicide in jail awaiting trial, his DNA never making it into the national criminal database.

Mary Silvani's parents have passed away. Her family's failure to report her missing remains unexplained and ultimately sad.

Back then, apparently no one missed her, but over the years a number of investigators worked to give her back her name, and eventually they gave her justice.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019