CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – In 1969, Harvard Graduate Student Jane Britton was found murdered in her own bed.
For over 50 years questions mounted, many wondering if the red substance found in her apartment was part of some ancient ritual.
“There arose some speculation at the time because she was an anthropology student and those in the anthropology friends and colleagues of hers had interest in burial rights red okra is used in some ancient burial ritual,” Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan explained.
At the time of her death, the 23-year-old from Needham had a boyfriend and a widespread circle of family and friends, leading to even more uncertainty.
“There are a group of individuals who for over 50 years have lived under some cloud of suspicion because there were some individuals that may have believed they were responsible for Jane’s murder,” Ryan said.
That cloud is now cleared thanks to vastly improved forensic technology.
“We were able to positively identify Michael Sumpter for Jane’s murder,” Ryan added.
This is the third homicide Sumpter is linked to. He died of cancer while serving another sentence, but investigators were able to match DNA by testing a surviving male relative.
Sumpter, didn’t even know Jane. As for the red substance, investigators believed it was a result of a struggle.
Investigators believe Sumter entered Britton’s apartment through her fourth floor window, able to do so through a fire escape that used to be attached to the building.
Michael Whidmer was the first reporter on scene in 1969, it was his second day on the job with UPI.
Whidmer was also a Harvard graduate, not much older than Jane. “The randomness of having someone at that young age randomly murdered hit me deeply,” he said.
In his retirement, Whidmer submitted several requests for Jane’s case file. In 2017, investigators decided to take another look at it before releasing anything. A year later, the case is closed for good.
“The biggest emotion at that point is relief that you are beginning to prove the beginnings of some understanding to a family and knowing that she has a surviving sibling who has spent 50 years without his sister and not knowing what happened to her,” Ryan explained.
A half a century later, that man, Boyd Britton thanked the DA’s office for never giving up on his sister.
Boyd Britton released this statement:
“A half century of mystery and speculation has clouded the brutal crime that shattered Jane’s promising young life and our family. As the surviving Britton, I wish to thank all those — friends, public officials and press — who persevered in keeping this investigation active, most especially State police Sergeant Peter Sennott. The DNA evidence match may be all we ever have as a conclusion. Learning to understand and forgive remains a challenge.”
According to the DA’s office, this marks the oldest case ever to be solved.
Ryan hopes this gives other victims’ families hope that investigators will never give up on a case.