If you?ve ever visited Lancaster, Pennsylvania, or if you?re familiar with the town, then you probably associate it with its sprawling farmland and quaint Amish community. Lancaster is, indeed, a beautiful place. I grew up there, though I was a suburbanite.
The school in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, where a milk deliveryman shot several Amish girls in 2006. ? Source: PennLive.com
It?s hard to imagine that anything bad could happen in an idyllic place so steeped in the Christian faith, but Lancaster is not immune to things like murder. After all, in 2006 a crazed gunman shot 10 Amish children in a one-room schoolhouse, killing 6. This is known as the West Nickel Mines School Shooting.
However, the first time I realized that Lancaster wasn?t as quaint and innocent as I thought was in December 1992. I was in middle school at the time. A few days before Christmas, a young, pretty, and popular elementary school teacher living on the opposite end of town was brutally raped and murdered in her condo before leaving for work. It threw sleepy little Lancaster into a state of shock and mourning.
For almost 26 years, the case remained unsolved. But thanks to DNA and modern genealogy science, the murderer was finally caught, and Lancastrians were as shocked by who the perpetrator was revealed to be as they were by the crime itself.
Christy Mirack was born and raised in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a town that makes Lancaster seem like Times Square. Shamokin is coal-mining country, and coal dust has dyed most of the local streets and roads a muddy brownish-red color. However, by 1992, coal had already been a dying industry in Shamokin for decades and as a result, the town was in decline.
Christy was a light in this downtrodden town of just a few thousand people. Blonde and beautiful, Christy graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Regional High School in 1985 and moved to the southern end of Lancaster County to attend Millersville University to become a teacher.
Shortly after graduating from Millersville, Christy took a position teaching remedial reading at Rohrerstown Elementary School in Lancaster. The year before her death, she accepted a position teaching sixth grade at the school.
Christy quickly became a favorite among her students, thanks to her bubbly personality, her caring nature, and the way she paid individual attention to each child. Teaching wasn?t a job for Christy, it was her passion. It was evident to everyone she came into contact with that she poured her heart and soul into her students.
But few people knew much about Christy Mirack?s social life. The fiercely loyal young woman was also fiercely private. Not even her own family knew about the daily goings-on in her life. Christy was especially close to her mother and didn?t want to worry her, so she spoke little about her life outside of teaching.
This blind spot in Christy Mirack?s life would play a significant role in the investigation into her murder, though, in the end, it may have mattered little.
December 21, 1992
Christmas was only a few days away, and Christy Mirack was prepared. The 25-year-old teacher had wrapped a book for each of her students and was planning to hand them out as Christmas gifts. After school let out for winter break, she planned on visiting her family back home in Shamokin.
Unfortunately, Christy wouldn?t live to see another Christmas.
On Monday, December 21, 1992, alarm bells rang when Christy failed to show up for work. She was a responsible and reliable teacher, and it was unlike her not to show up or call.
Police rope off Christy Mirack?s apartment in Greenfield Estates ? Source: Lancaster Online
Concerned, Rohrerstown Elementary School Principal Harry Goodman drove to Christy?s apartment in the Greenfield Estates complex. The door was ajar, so he let himself in. That?s when he discovered Christy Mirack?s body. He ran to a neighboring apartment complex and phoned the police at 9:22 a.m.
A Frightful Morning
Christy?s friends teased her because it took her so long to get ready to go anywhere, and work was no exception.
She generally got up around 6 a.m. and prepared breakfast for herself. Then, she?d spend some time watching the morning news. That day, she had no idea that she would be the top headline by lunchtime.
Christy Mirack relaxes with friends in Wildwood, NJ during the summer of 1992 ? Source: The News-Item
The educator took safety seriously. Friends and roommates who left doors and windows unlocked drew the cautious woman?s ire and received mini-lectures about keeping everything locked and secure.
At her apartment, the front door locked when it was shut. There were no signs of breaking and entering. The door even had a peephole which would have allowed Christy to see who was standing outside. Investigators surmised that Christy either knew her attacker and let him in, or she was surprised as she was leaving for work.
Christy had a roommate, Mary Lesko, and a girlfriend had stayed at the apartment the weekend before Christmas but left that Sunday. Mary left for work just after 7 a.m. Monday morning and Christy typically left for work around 7:45 a.m. Christy was murdered somewhere within that small window of opportunity.
Inside, it appeared there had been a struggle. Christmas gifts and bags littered the floor, tossed about in the melee. At the beginning of the investigation, the police wouldn?t say whether Christy Mirack was sexually assaulted; we now know she was raped and strangled with her own sweater.
Christy was strangled and beaten about the neck and face. Police would not comment on the extent of her injuries, but the closed casket at Christy?s funeral indicated the assault had been brutal. A wooden cutting board was found near her body, and police believe Christy tried to defend herself with it, only to have it used against her.
As the investigation progressed, more information trickled out to the public.
Yes, Christy Mirack had been sexually assaulted. She was wearing her coat and gloves at the time of the attack, but her underwear, pants, and shoes had been removed, and the clothing on her torso was pushed up.
It was revealed that Christy took such a brutal beating that her face was distorted. When Principal Goodman ran to the neighbors to call for help, they recall that he kept repeating, ?Her face?her face.? Christy suffered blunt force trauma to her neck, back, upper chest, and her jaw was fractured. Semen was recovered from multiple areas on her body and in a section of the carpet directly under where her body was found.
Dozens of people were interviewed, polygraphed, and dismissed as persons of interest. The police initially looked at Harry Goodman as a possible suspect. It made sense; he found the body. However, Goodman was quickly eliminated as a suspect, so law enforcement turned their attention to a married man 20 years Christy?s senior whom she had dated earlier that year. DNA tests conducted in 1993 determined that he, too, was innocent.
A Suspicious Car
As for eyewitness testimony, there was barely anything for investigators to go on, but their observations would be crucial to the investigation. Someone saw a man park a medium-sized car in an overflow parking lot across the street from Christy?s building and walk toward the entrance of her apartment around 7 a.m. on the day of the murder, but that was the extent of the information.
Police said at the time that if the observed man didn?t come forward to identify himself, investigators intended ?to proceed on the assumption that this car and this man were involved in Ms. Mirack?s murder.?
On New Year?s Day 1993, the police said they were specifically looking for a ?muscular white male? who was driving a white car ? a 1993 Dodge Shadow convertible, a 1990 Dodge Daytona ES, or a Toyota. The description of both the suspect and the car was provided by ?multiple witnesses,? police said.
Around the same time, investigators said they were narrowing down their suspect list. In May 1993, the police released a sketch of a man a neighbor said she was walking down nearby Pitney Road the morning of the murder. The man was in his late 20s, 225?250 pounds; stocky, muscular build; long, stringy, medium-brown hair that hung to his chest; clean-shaven; deep-set eyes; wearing a blue, white and black, faded shirt; and blue jeans.
Two months later, in July, police updated their description of the subject seen parking across from Christy?s apartment. They said they now believed the man was driving a 1987 or 1991 faded, silver Dodge Daytona hatchback with black louvers or sunshades on the rear window.
In reality, they were miles away from finding their man. Law enforcement was running on the assumption that Christy Mirack knew her killer, and would continue to run on that assumption for more than two decades.
By 1995, police had interviewed upwards of 1,500 people and eliminated more than 60 men based on forensic testing and comparison of blood and seminal fluid found at the crime scene.
The Killer Reaches Out?
In 2003, a man called into the Lancaster Sunday News. He had a story idea, he told the reporter who answered the phone. The reporter was only half paying attention, but the caller, who sounded like he was in his thirties, spoke quickly like he was trying to get something out as fast as possible.
The man, who refused to identify himself, told the reporter that he?d been drinking with some friends the previous night when the conversation turned to Chandra Levy, the former intern of Congressman Gary Condit, whose skeletal remains had been found in a Washington park on May 22. He suggested the paper do a story on ?women like her,? who were promiscuous and lived a double life nobody knew about.
Then, the man started talking about Christy Mirack and noted that the 10-year anniversary of her murder was seven months away.
The caller told the reporter that he knew Christy?s brother, Vince Mirack, and that he knew of a barn on the Mirack property ?where (Christy) would take men.?
The reporter?s ears perked up?
The man continued to suggest the paper do a story on ?women like her.? When the reporter asked what the caller meant by that, he called Christy a derogatory name suggesting that she was promiscuous. He said that ?women like that? didn?t deserve to die. But what did they expect?
The reporter reached out to the police, who contacted the FBI. The FBI believed it was likely the call came from Christy Mirack?s killer. Unfortunately, it was too late to trace the call, and there wasn?t much to go on, as there wasn?t any background noise or other identifying factors in the call.
Investigators could only hope that someone overheard the call and would report it.
And for the record, Vince Mirack said there was no barn on his family?s property.
Images of what Christy Mirack?s killer might have looked like at the ages of 25, 45, and 55, produced by Parabon NanoLabs. Source: TalkMurderWithMe.com
In 2017, investigators contacted Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company, for help. Using DNA from the semen samples recovered from the carpet in Christy Mirack?s apartment, the company was able to create images of what Christy?s killer might have looked like at the ages of 25, 45, and 55.
The images, which investigators stressed were approximations, were released to the public in the hopes that someone would recognize the faces and come forward.
The Big Break
It?s hard to imagine, but there was a time not so long ago when getting away with a crime was remarkably easy. DNA science didn?t exist, social media wasn?t even an idea yet, and the American landscape wasn?t littered with surveillance cameras.
Today, if a criminal leaves so much as a single hair at the crime scene, that person?s full biological data is in the hands of investigators. The bad guys should assume that they will get caught, eventually.
Christy Mirack?s killer left seminal fluid behind, and while it didn?t match anything in the DNA database, his genealogical makeup would prove to be his undoing.
Honestly, by the time Christy?s murder was solved, many of us who were alive when the horrific crime occurred had become uncomfortably resigned to the fact that the case had gone cold, and we had little hope of it ever being solved. The police seemed to have little more to go on than a few good guesses. And as it would turn out, they got the killer?s psychology all wrong ? or at least a major part of it.
The killer, investigators told the public, wasn?t the type of guy to stand out in a crowd. He didn?t want attention; he was happy to stay in the shadows. As it turned out, he may have been a relatively shy Joe Blow in 1992, but he was anything but shy 25, almost 26, years later.
The Truth Comes Out
The identifying genetic information on Christy Mirack?s killer provided by Parabon NanoLabs ? Source: Lancaster Online
In May of 2018, few people were thinking about the Christy Mirack murder. But for the men and women tasked with solving it (the case was always open and active, according to the police), the 25-year-old murder was always on their minds.
Christy?s case was transferred to the District Attorney in Lancaster, a man named Craig Stedman, in 2016. His office sent the DNA evidence collected at the murder scene to Parabon NanoLabs in 2017, which produced the approximate images of the suspect. But in May 2018, Parabon had the technology necessary to take the investigation to the next level.
This was the investigators? last hope. There was no one else to question, no more polygraphs to administer, no more evidence to collect. If this didn?t work, Christy Mirack?s case probably would have gone ice cold.
This time, the killer?s DNA was uploaded into a public database called GEDMatch, which can show how much DNA two people share.
Let?s say your cousin got one of those 23AndMe kits for Christmas one year and decided to upload his genealogical information to GEDMatch. Anyone can view and compare their own information against the data on GEDMatch. It?s designed to help people learn about their backgrounds and connect with distant relatives around the world, but because it is public information, the police can also use it to identify criminals.
When Christy?s killer?s information was compared to information uploaded to GEDMatch, it pointed to the half-brother of a man who had never been on investigators? radar. Their work wasn?t complete, however; they still had to compare the man?s DNA to the DNA they collected at the murder scene to make absolutely certain they were a match.
Officers from the Pennsylvania State Police went undercover at a school function where the suspect was working and observed him chewing gum and using a water bottle. When the suspect threw the items away, the officers moved in to snatch them out of the trash.
The DNA was a match. The probability of the perpetrator being anyone other than the suspect was approximately one in 200 octillion from the Caucasian population. There are only 7.6 billion people on the planet. They had their guy. His name was Raymond Rowe, a.k.a., ?DJ Freez.?
Raymond Rowe?s booking photo ? Source: ABC News
The police also gathered non-DNA evidence linking Raymond to Christy Mirack?s murder, including a 1991 speeding ticket showing he drove a white Toyota Coup ? a vehicle similar to the type of car witnesses reported seeing in the Greenfield Terrace?s overflow parking lot.
Source: WGALSource: WGAL
Raymond Rowe, ?DJ Freez?
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman announces charges in the Christy Mirack murder on June 25, 2018. ? Source: WITF
On Monday, June 25, 2018, the Lancaster DA, Craig Stedman, announced that an arrest had been made in the murder of Christy Mirack. Lancastrians were thrilled to hear the news but shocked to learn that Christy?s killer was a well-known local DJ.
Raymond Rowe, known locally as DJ Freez, deejayed everything from proms to weddings. For a time, he was the house deejay at the popular Chameleon nightclub. I had never met him, but I had worked as a contributing writer for a local lifestyle magazine several years before Raymond?s arrest, so I was more than familiar with him.
According to Raymond?s now-defunct website, he also deejayed for Paris Hilton, Brooke Hogan, and at events featuring Sting and The Eagles.
He may not have been the center of attention or the life of the party in 1992, but in the years leading up to his arrest, he basked in the glow of his fame. The 49-year-old had walked free for longer than Christy Mirack was alive.
Christy Mirack?s rapist and murderer, Raymond Rowe, a.k.a., ?DJ Freez? ? Source: Mirror
Raymond Rowe was born in 1968. As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, he became a break-dancer and then a house party DJ. He attended McCaskey High School in downtown Lancaster but didn?t graduate. In 1988, at the age of 19, he got married for the first time.
For 15 years, Raymond kept the music pumping and the party hopping at the Chameleon Club. During the summer of 1992, Raymond had a new fiancee, and he divorced his first wife in September 1993.
In August 1992, Raymond brazenly hosted an anti-violence rally in Lancaster Square.
Raymond Rowe spent time in Chile in 1996, where he worked at clubs in a tourist area. The following year, he returned to Lancaster and opened a retail store. He also started Lancaster?s first DJ school at that location. In 1998, his second marriage ended in divorce.
He married once again in 2000, the same year he earned a GED. Seven years later, Raymond and his third wife divorced.
Prior to his arrest for Christy Mirack?s murder, Rowe had only had one run-in with law enforcement, in July 2001. Police had raided the Chameleon Club in search of underage drinkers. Raymond was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
In 2003, Raymond filed a lawsuit against a series of Lancaster County government and law enforcement officials, alleging that he suffered severe injuries to his head and feet, and alleging the raids violated his civil rights. He asked for more than $150,000 in compensatory damages. The suit was dismissed and settled in 2004. He was obnoxiously brazen.
In 2013, Raymond married his fourth wife, whom he was still married to at the time of his arrest. Born in Ukraine, the woman brought with her a daughter who was born before she came to the United States.
At some point, Raymond Rowe became a born-again Christian, but his sins never weighed on him enough to turn himself in and bring relief to Christy Mirack?s family. When he was arrested, he admitted his guilt and offered Christy?s family a half-hearted apology, but it was too little, too late.
Christy Mirack poses with her brother and mother ? Source: ABC News
Vince Mirack?s rage was evident when he was finally able to confront the man who took his beautiful, vivacious sister from him a quarter-century earlier.
?I?ve searched for who could do such a horrific thing?Who could do something so heinous to another person and walk away with no regret. Now I know who.
You took away our joy, our security, our love of the Christmas holiday?But most of all, you took away our Christy. We struggle every day to get past the pain.
I can only hope the rest of your life is as painful for you as the last 26 years have been for my family.?
Christy?s father also planned to address Raymond Rowe, but he collapsed in tears and opted not to.
Sadly, Christy?s mother passed away before she was able to see someone held accountable for her daughter?s murder.
If Raymond Rowe felt true remorse, he never showed it. Finally, the Mirack family knew who killed their Christy in December 1992, and he would spend the rest of his life behind bars. But Raymond wouldn?t give the family the answers to other important questions, including if and how Raymond and Christy knew each other, and why he killed her.
Christy enjoyed the (limited) nightlife that Lancaster had to offer back then. It?s possible Raymond saw her at the Chameleon Club or at an event he was deejaying, noticed her beauty, and followed her home, intending to assault her. It?s possible they met. No one knows for sure. No one even knows if Christy answered the door for him, or if she was ambushed while she was leaving for work.
However, despite Raymond?s silence, evidence collected at the murder scene points to a connection between the killer and his victim. The police found a Chameleon Club pass in Christy?s pocket on the day she was murdered.
Someday, if Raymond sprouts a conscience, we might find out how well he knew Christy, if at all, and why he chose to do what he did.
It?s doubtful, but it is the very least he could do.
Source: Lancaster Online