3 Girls Were Abducted and Stabbed in 1975. Now They Know Who Did It.

Holding one another’s hands, the three women — two sisters and a friend — sat together on Thursday as police officials in Indiana shared something the women had waited nearly five decades to learn: the name of the person who stabbed them and abandoned them in an Indiana cornfield on a late summer night in 1975.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said at the news conference that through the use of DNA evidence, investigators had been able to determine that Thomas Edward Williams had stabbed 13-year-old Kandice Smith, 11-year-old Sheri Rottler (now Sheri Rottler Trick) and 14-year-old Kathie Rottler on Aug. 19, 1975, in Greenfield, Ind. Mr. Williams died at 49 in November 1983 while in custody in Galveston, Texas, the authorities said. It was unclear why he was being held.

Looking somber, and at times with blank expressions on their faces, the women, now in their 50s and 60s, quietly listened as the authorities retold some of the harrowing details of the violent attack.

The girls had hitchhiked after buying some items at a gas station east of Indianapolis, according to the police. A man driving a station wagon offered them a ride, and he drove them to a cornfield. There, the police said, he forced the girls to get out of the car, bound two of them, and then stabbed each of them several times.

“They actually played dead to try to avoid being stabbed any more,” Sgt. David Ellison of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police said.

Two of the girls sought help from a passerby on the main road, and after the police arrived, they found the third girl in the cornfield; all were taken to a hospital, Sergeant Ellison said.

After police officials recounted the crime and how the victims’ persistence, along with police work and DNA evidence, had led to the solving of the case, each of the three women spoke.

“I stand here before you today as a survivor who has learned the true meaning of patience,” Ms. Rottler said. “I’ve learned that sometimes the answer you are waiting for can take decades to get.”

Ms. Rottler said that even after the case had gone cold, she sought to keep it open.

“It seemed every call I made was met with another dead end,” she said. “But I was determined not to give up.”

The women worked with several state and local officials over the years, and in 2018, they contacted Sergeant Ellison, who agreed to look into their case.

Sergeant Ellison, who recently retired, said that he had started looking at DNA that was recovered from evidence of the crime scene. Using genetic genealogy, investigators were able to identify people with DNA similar to that of DNA recovered from the crime scene, Sergeant Ellison said, noting that they were able to track down a daughter of Mr. Williams. She agreed last year to provide a DNA sample, which pointed to a match with Mr. Williams.

Addressing the three women, Deputy Chief Kendale Adams of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said, “I won’t pretend to know what you’re feeling today, but I do hope this is the first step in providing what closure the criminal justice system can.”

During the news conference, Ms. Rottler Trick said that she had decided forgive Mr. Williams for the attack.

“I’m sorry if that makes anybody mad,” she said.

The last of the three women to speak on Thursday was Ms. Smith. She said that the identification of Mr. Williams had brought her “closure” and had brought her family justice.

“It’s put peace within my heart,” she said.

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