LANCASTER, Pa. – The man charged this week with strangling a young elementary school teacher in 1992 had built a thriving business as a DJ that put him regularly in front of children, and it was at an elementary school gig last month that detectives surreptitiously recovered one of the key pieces of evidence they used make an arrest — his chewed gum.
Raymond Charles Rowe, 49, is being held without bail in the killing of 25-year-old Christy Mirack at her home in a crime that had stymied investigators until genealogical research led them to the man known professionally as DJ Freez.
With genetic material from the crime scene, authorities were able to identify a close relative of the then-unknown suspect, putting Rowe in their sights. Rowe had lived just a few miles from Mirack at the time she was killed, although it's unclear whether they knew each other.
Police sent an undercover team last month to a school where Rowe was performing, collecting his used water bottle and chewed gum. State police said they matched DNA from those items to the crime scene.
Rowe does not have a lawyer listed in court records and his work phone number is no longer taking messages. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 9.
He's had a long career as a DJ that began even before the sixth-grade teacher was found raped, beaten and strangled inside her home as she was getting ready for work.
Just four months before the killing, he was the DJ for a "Stop the Violence" event in downtown Lancaster.
"I love working with kids," Rowe told the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal two years later, in a story about an outdoor dance party for teens. "This is my natural surrounding. I am very familiar with city kids and pretty much grew up playing songs for teens."
Prosecutors have not said whether Rowe is being investigated in connection with any other crimes.
He was widely admired by his competitors, who were shocked by news of his arrest.
"I've always known him to be an upstanding guy," said Josh Bogner, co-owner of a company that also caters to weddings and similar events in central Pennsylvania. "Anybody that I've known who used him has always had nothing but great things to say about him."
Rowe attended public high school in Lancaster but left in 1988 without a degree, later obtaining a general equivalency diploma and going to work for a cleaning and janitorial service. The online biography on his company website says he was a break dancer in the 1980s, then won local DJ battles before hosting regular dance parties at Lancaster's Chameleon Club.
For a time he operated a retail store in downtown Lancaster, selling recorded music, clothes and DJ equipment. His site lists events he has worked in New York and regular gigs on local radio stations.
Rowe sued police officers and government officials over a July 2001 raid at the Chameleon Club, alleging his civil rights were violated. The lawsuit said he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after refusing to turn down the music. His criminal charges were resolved through a program for first-time offenders and the federal civil rights lawsuit was settled out of court.
Kahlil Celotto-Edwards, a friend of Rowe's for 20 years, met him through the club scene.
Rowe has always been "a big advocate for first responders," offering them discounts and appearing at charity events, he said.
"He would post things periodically on (his) web pages, saying hey, this is something that I am proud to do for our first responders," Celotto-Edwards said.
He performed at high school proms and weddings throughout central Pennsylvania. When he hit his 100th wedding during the last calendar year, he waived the couple's fee.
"He was very likable, very professional," said Michele Perron, hospitality director at The Booking House, a regional venue. "We were in shock and very sad to hear this news."
Perron's daughter had hired him for her own wedding this coming Saturday.
AP writer Alexandra Villarreal in Philadelphia and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.