Nearly 45 years after a World War I veteran was murdered in Queens, New York, a man was arrested and charged in his murder, officials announced Wednesday.
Martin Motta, 74, was charged with second-degree murder for killing 81-year-old George Clarence Seitz in 1976, according to a statement from Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
“We hope the identification of the remains and the indictment in this case will begin to bring peace and closure to his loved ones,” she said in the statement. “This indictment serves as an example of how police and prosecutors work together to bring individuals alleged to have committed crimes to justice, regardless of how much time passes or how many obstacles are placed in our path.”
On December 10, 1976, Seitz never returned home from getting a haircut at Motta’s barbershop and was reported missing five days later, said NYPD Deputy Chief Jerry O’Sullivan at a press conference Thursday.
His fate remained unknown for nearly 40 years, until March 2019, when the NYPD received a phone call from an individual who said they had details of a homicide that had occurred the year of Seitz’s disappearance, O’Sullivan said.
Threat of intimidation may have prevented the caller from coming forward with information about the crime for so many years, according to Queens Executive Assistant District Attorney Dan Saunders.
NYPD detectives discovered human remains in the backyard of a home in Queens based on the caller’s information.
“From there, the NYPD took — undertook what amounts to really a Herculean task to identify the remains that were buried for at least 45 years, and almost miraculously, they succeeded in that task,” Saunders said Thursday.
The NYPD’s detective bureau identified Seitz as the victim using integrative genetic genealogy — which combines DNA evidence and traditional genealogy to find biological connections between people — successfully for the first time in its history, said NYPD Inspector Neteis Gilbert.
Using FBI databanks, the NYPD narrowed the search to a specific family tree, which the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was then able to use to identify a single victim, according to Saunders.
Once a victim was identified, witness interviews helped give detectives a suspect name and eventually linked Motta to the crime, according to O’Sullivan.
Investigators believe Motta’s motive was robbery, and that Seitz was a regular customer at his barbershop. The victim was known to carry large sums of cash and apparently did on the day of his haircut, Saunders said.
Motta is due to appear in court on Friday. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison, the Queens District Attorney said in a statement.
CNN reached out to Motta’s attorney, Russell Rothberg, who had no comment on the charges against Motta.
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