Crime & Public Safety

Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office uses new DNA technology in hopes of solving 1987 murder

Margit Schuller was washing clothes in the laundromat at Palmetto Apartments in Burton when she was shot in the head around 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 1, 1987.

Schuller’s 12-year-old daughter found her mother’s body outside of the laundromat, two doors down from their apartment. She was 34 years old.

The case has challenged investigators for more than 30 years, with very few leads or suspects.

Now, Beaufort County Sheriff’s officials are trying a new approach in hopes of catching the killer.

Detectives used the DNA sample they collected from the scene to generate 3-D composite sketches of what the suspect might have looked like in 1987 and might look like now. The illustration of Schuller’s killer, made by a Parabon NanoLabs technology called Snapshot, was released by the sheriff’s office this week to generate new leads and suspects.

It’s the first time any police department in the Lowcountry has tried this technology in an attempt to solve a murder, according to Maj. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Bromage has been working on this case since 1999, when Sheriff P.J. Tanner started his cold case initiative his first year in office.

“We owe it to the victim to try this technology,” Bromage said. “We are going on 32 years without being able to ID a suspect.”

As detectives have chipped away at this case over the years, major breakthroughs with DNA technology have allowed them to eliminate suspects. Bromage is hoping this new strategy of sharing the suspect’s “phenotype report,” takes them much further.

“It goes much further than a DNA analysis,” Bromage said.

The report / illustration uses “reverse engineering” from DNA to “accurately predict genetic ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape in individuals from any ethnic background,” the company website said. Snapshot technology has helped solve 55 cases across the United States in the last few years.

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Bromage said it’s important that this composite sketch is shared locally because the killer could still be in Beaufort County.

“Information developed in the Margit Schuller murder investigation leads cold-case investigators to believe that the subject was familiar with the Burton area — either lived or had family there,” the sheriff’s office press release said.

Bromage said Schuller was found in “not a well traveled area,” and the murder weapon was found in 1989, leading police to believe the killer was familiar with the area and possibly stuck around.

Bromage said the crime appeared to be random, that the killer saw an opportunity with Schuller in a fairly secluded location.

He hopes this new technology will help them solve not only Schuller’s case, but others in Beaufort County.

“It’s generating leads and phone calls. Information is coming in, and that’s something.” Bromage said. “We’re encouraging people to look at the composite and, even if they think the person is dead, it’s important we have that information.”

Anyone who believes that they know the suspect’s identity is encouraged to contact Bromage at (843)-816-8013. A reward of up to $5,000 will be considered for information leading to the identification and arrest of the suspect, the release said.

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