Unsolved 1986 Delaware murder gets fresh look from new cold case unit

A Delaware police department’s new Cold Case Unit is hoping new DNA testing will solve the 1986 killing of a University of Maryland student.

The New Castle County Police Department established the two-man unit last fall. The unit’s first case is the unsolved murder of Jane Marie Prichard. Her partially-clothed body was found on Sept. 20, 1986. She was 28 when she died of a shotgun blast to her back in Blackbird State Forest near Middletown.

The Wilmington News Journal reported Sunday that evidence collected during the investigation has been sent to labs for state-of-the-art DNA testing that wasn’t available nearly three decades ago.

“We’re expecting results any day,” Detective Thomas Orzechowski told the paper.

Orzechowski and his partner, retired Sgt. Glenn Davis, called Prichard’s family to tell them they were re-examining the case.

“They were happy to hear we didn’t give up on the case and it’s still being investigated,” Orzechowski said.

“I thought it was just astounding. I was flabbergasted,” brother Keith Prichard, 59, of Maryland, told the News Journal.

Campers found the body near a trail. Jane Marie Prichard had gone to the state park as part of her thesis research for her master’s degree in biology from the University of Maryland.

The paper said the forest was full of hunters the day of the murder, but investigators quickly ruled out an accidental shooting as the cause of death.

The last person who saw her was a squirrel hunter who told police that he seen the woman talking to another hunter. Detectives made public a composite of that unknown hunter.

A month after the murder, police accused the squirrel hunter of killing Prichard, citing inconsistencies in his statements to police.

Before he went to trial, the case fell apart and the charges against the squirrel hunter were dropped in August 1987. DNA tests on a hair found at the crime scene proved he could not have been the killer.

By that time police investigating the case had conducted more than 300 interviews.

They also reached a dead end as the leads from those interviews dried up, and shelved the case -- until now.