After more than three decades of questions and grief, Tamika Reyes finally knows who killed her mother.
Anna Kane was 26 when her body was found on October 23, 1988, in a wooded area near Reading, Pennsylvania, with baling twine around her neck. An investigation revealed she’d been strangled elsewhere and dumped in the woods.
A local newspaper, the Reading Eagle, ran a front-page story seeking information on Kane’s death. In February 1990, about 15 months after she was killed, the paper received an anonymous letter from a “concerned citizen” with information that only the killer would know, police said.
The letter writer also left his DNA when he licked the envelope. The DNA from the saliva matched what was found on Kane’s clothing, authorities said this week.
But years turned into decades, and police still didn’t know who the suspect was. Finally, in 2022, Pennsylvania State Police used genetic genealogy testing to identify the killer – a local man named Scott Grim – law enforcement officers said at a news conference last week.
Now Reyes finally has some answers – although she’s sad for her grandmother, who died before learning the case was solved.
“I felt a little bit of everything when I found out,” she told CNN. “I was happy to finally put a face behind the monster who took her from us, (and) upset that he will never be able to face consequences.”
For 34 years, Reyes, along with her two brothers and their grandmother, have wondered who killed Kane. The lack of closure has added to the distress of losing their mother, she said.
Then Reyes got a call last week from a detective about a stunning development in the case.
After years of waiting for justice, she was relieved investigators finally had named her mother’s killer. But she was disappointed to learn that Grim had died in 2018 of natural causes at age 58 and will not pay for robbing her and her siblings of a childhood with a mother.
Reyes was 9 when her mother was killed, and said she thinks about her every day.
“She was a firecracker – very outgoing, not afraid of anything, very honest, blunt and caring,” she said.
Reyes said one of her fondest childhood memories was taking walks with her mother and seeing her suddenly dance to random music playing in stores as they passed.
After her death, Reyes’ aunt took her in and raised her while her two brothers moved in with their father.
Reyes said she’s still bothered by the image the media painted of her mother, who was unemployed at the time of her death. Although her mother had a dark past that included drug use and prostitution, she was trying to turn her life around, Reyes said.
“She was portrayed as this slain prostitute, like she deserved what happened to her,” said Reyes, 43, who lives in Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania. “It was hurtful. She was more than that, she was a victim. She was a mother. She was loved. No one deserves what happened to her.”
Investigators said they identified Grim as the killer using genetic genealogy, which combines DNA evidence and traditional genealogy to find biological connections among people.
In recent years, companies like 23andMe and Ancestry have encouraged people to explore their genealogy by spitting into a tube and sending it off for analysis. These companies then send back information on their clients’ ethnic heritage, genetic health risks and family tree – as well as a raw data file of their DNA.
With millions of users seeking to explore their genetic roots, the practice has become a big business. It’s also become a valuable tool for law enforcement officers trying to solve old crimes.
DNA collected from crime scenes can now be uploaded to an online service that compares it to DNA submitted by people using companies like 23andMe to explore their genealogy.
If a possible match is found, genealogists can build out family trees to help police find potential suspects. In recent years this method has helped solve some of the nation’s most high-profile cold cases, including the one of the notorious Golden State Killer.
Investigators analyzed Kane’s clothing and found traces of an unknown man’s DNA. They later determined that it matched the DNA on the envelope from 1990, confirming investigators’ belief that the person behind the letter was the killer.
But while while investigators had Grim’s DNA profile, there was nothing to identify him because he had never been arrested for anything that required his DNA to be put into the system, authorities said.
That’s where genetic genealogy came in. Genetic genealogy’s effectiveness in cold cases depends on the quality of crime scene DNA and whether it has degraded, State Police Trooper Daniel Womer said at a news conference last week.
The detectives’ careful preservation of DNA evidence in 1988 provided a solid foundation for today’s investigators to examine with new technology, Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Nathan Trate said at the news conference.
“All of that stuff was … preserved the way it should be, because they knew probably somewhere down the line whatever they collected could be that little piece of evidence (to solve the case),” Trate said. “Well, here we are in 2022, and that little piece of evidence that they collected was exactly what we needed.”
Investigators don’t know much about Grim other than he lived in the nearby Hamburg, Pennsylvania, area.
They’re trying to determine whether he knew Kane, and have urged anyone who knows the nature of their relationship to reach out. So far, they’ve found no ties.
“But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some connection that we haven’t figured out yet,” Womer said.
Kane was reportedly working as a prostitute at the time she was killed and may have been meeting a customer, Womer said, adding that police are trying to determine whether it was Grim.
The Pennsylvania State Police have declined to release the 1990 letter to the newspaper or to elaborate on exactly what it said.
“There was just intimate details about where she was disposed of, how her clothes were displayed, stuff like that,” Womer said. “This led investigators to believe that whoever wrote the letter had committed the homicide.”
Investigators said the biggest breakthrough in the case happened this year after they obtained a new sample of Grim’s DNA to compare with the older evidence. They declined to elaborate how they obtained his DNA when he’s been dead for four years.
“It was obtained legally through a search warrant,” Trate said.
Now that they have identified Grim’s DNA, police will review other open cold cases to see if he was involved, Womer said.
Meanwhile, Reyes still misses her mother.
“It has been hard growing up without a mom,” she said. “No child should ever have to grow up without their mom.”
Reyes still has so many questions she’d ask Grim if he was still alive. Why did he kill a young woman who was just trying to take care of her children? And what went through his mind when he learned she had a family that loved her?
Reyes knows she’ll never get the answers. But she’s glad her family finally knows her mother’s killer.