Body of suspect in 1975 Montreal teen killing exhumed in West Virginia
WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
The body of a suspect in the unsolved 1975 Montreal killing of 16-year-old Sharron Prior has been exhumed in West Virginia after DNA samples from the crime scene were matched to his family name.
Franklin Romine, an American from West Virginia, lived in Montreal at the time of the murder and is the primary suspect in the case.
Prior's mother, Yvonne Prior, never stopped looking for answers over the last 48 years, and the family's legal counsel Marc Bellemare said "it must be the best day she had in the last half century."
Prior was last seen March 29, 1975 when she left her family home in Pointe-Saint-Charles to meet up with friends at a nearby pizza parlour. She never showed up. Her body was found three days later in Longueuil.
Autopsies revealed she had been raped and beaten to death. A man's T-shirt had been used to restrain her, and tire tracks were found at the crime scene.
Around the same time Prior disappeared, a 22-year-old woman was the victim of an attempted kidnapping at knife-point on the same street where Prior was last seen. The woman described her assailant as a tall 28-year-old English-speaking white male with blue eyes, brown hair and a mustache.
DNA testing found a match
During court proceedings in West Virginia to have Romine's body exhumed, the Longueuil Police detective on the case, Éric Racicot, testified last month that DNA samples from the crime scene, including the T-shirt, had been sent to a laboratory in the state in 2019.
In June 2022, the DNA samples sent to Quebec's forensic laboratory for comparison found a match with the family name Romine.
Racicot said local databases showed Franklin Romine had two addresses in Montreal and Longueuil in the '70s. Though Romine had three brothers, none of them had lived in Montreal. A vehicle registered under Romine's name in Montreal was compatible with tire tracks found at the crime scene.
Romine had an extensive American criminal record and had encounters with Montreal police, said Racicot.
In December 2022, Longueuil police received DNA samples from Romine's two living brothers, who consensually gave them to West Virginia police. Both brothers said they believed their brother had committed the murder, testified Racicot.
Family photos showed Romine as a tall man with reddish-brown hair and a mustache, said Racicot.
Romine died in Canada in the early '80s and was buried in West Virginia, said police.
"We have very strong reasons to believe that Mr. Romine is the suspect in this file according to the fact that he was living in Montreal when the crime occurred," said Sgt. Francis Charette of Longueil Police.
"He was also fitting the description that the witness gave us and [had an] extensive criminal record."
The results comparing the DNA found at the crime scene and the exhumed remains will take up to three weeks to be released.
"We want the family to know we never gave up and we're so close to answers," said Charette.
New hope for cold cases
Stephane Luce's mother was murdered and he never got answers, leading him to found the group Meurtre et disparitions irrésolues du Québec, which advocates for the loved ones of missing and murdered people.
He says Prior's case gives him new hope in DNA testing as a tool to solve cold cases, as it was one of the most well-known cold cases in the province and has now been linked to an American man.
"It is unbelievable. Well, now actually we have to believe it because it's right in front of our eyes," he said.
"With the profile they got on Sharron's case I can understand that maybe with so little details they can end up with results. This personally gives me hope. It's the way to give hope to a lot of people."
Bellemare said he stayed in touch with Prior's mother for decades and saw the nightmare she had to go through. Now, he hopes she can find a bit of peace.
"If you kill someone, if you hurt someone, we will find you. That's the message of this case," he said.
"We can find with DNA profile on the clothes, on the ground, on the body — we can find the killer with the DNA profile, even if the killer is dead like in this case."
WATCH | Police make new discoveries about the case in 2004:
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