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A Baltimore County Woman Pushed To Find Her Childhood Friend's Killer For 40 Years; How New DNA Evidence Finally Cracked The Case

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Sue Yutzy will never forget walking down Hammonds Ferry Road in Lansdowne on September 23, 1981. She was 14 years old at the time and with her best friend Heather Porter, who was a year younger. It would be the last time she ever saw Porter alive.

"Heather had gotten into an argument with her parents that night. I was punished. We snuck out to be together," Yutzy told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "I left Heather two blocks that way. The next day, I wake up, and I'm told my best friend is murdered, and I've never been the same. Being 14 years old, that was really hard to take in."

Police said Porter was raped and strangled. Her body was dumped in Towson. "I can't imagine her fear. What was going on in her mind? I can't imagine any of that," Yutzy told Hellgren.  "I had survivor's guilt. I carried that for many years leaving her and not walking her home to her door."

For more than four decades, Yutzy regularly called Baltimore County police to try to keep the case alive. But there were no major updates until November of 2021, when the detective leading the investigation told her they had a suspect. This week, police publicly identified the person they believe committed the killing as John Anthony Petrecca Junior. "It's nice to have the closure. The name. The face of who did it," Yutzy said. "I know him, but I'm trying to put the pieces together of how I know him."

Petrecca, who police said had a record of rape arrests in the 1960s and 1970s, died more than 20 years ago. Police exhumed his body on March 11th with written authorization from the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office. They tested the DNA, and it came back a match.

Petrecca, BCPD

"Bode Technology analyzed the sample and forwarded their results to the FBI for further analysis," police said in a statement. "In February of 2021, results identified John Anthony Petrecca, Jr., as a possible suspect in the murder of 13-year-old Heather Porter. …Baltimore County Homicide Cold Case detectives determined, at the time of the killing, Petrecca resided in the 100 block of Ridge Ave., in Halethorpe, Maryland. The location is a short distance from where Heather Porter was last seen."

WJZ was unable to reach Petrecca's family for comment. "As a result of advances in forensic technology, Porter's family members now know the identity of the person who took their loved ones life. The Baltimore County Police Department would like to thank Bode Technology, the Hackerman Foundation and the FBI for their expert analysis, assistance and support in solving this cold case," police said.

Heather Porter's family spoke to WJZ in 2017 following our year-long investigation into the disappearances and killings of several young people believed to be linked to a possible sex ring run by powerful priests and police.

"She had two thumbprints on her neck, she had a handprint on her arm or bruises," said Mary Porter, Heather's sister. "She had skin underneath her fingernails. Her fingernails were broke from the struggle. So she fought to the death."

Friends said Mary Porter died two years ago, never knowing who killed Heather.

WJZ Anchor Denise Koch asked her in 2017 about the possibility of the suspect being deceased since the crime happened so long ago. "If you can prove that person did it, I've got justice," Mary Porter said. "At least they're dead. At least they can't do it to anyone else. They can't do it to another living soul. They can't break another family. They can't hurt another innocent child."

A police source told us in 2017 they were looking into whether Porter's case was tied to several others and whether there were any links to the late Father Joseph Maskell, the priest investigated in the Netflix series 'The Keepers.'

"Including myself, we were all connected to Father Maskell. He has hands in every one of these people's lives. I want answers to those questions," Sue Yutzy told Hellgren Thursday.

The only person police have named as responsible for Porter's death is Petrecca.

Police said Petrecca is being considered in reference to other cases but there is nothing definitively linking him to any of them.

"Everyone's thanking me for Heather's case being solved. I did not solve the case, the police did. I'm just, I loved her. She was my best friend. And that's what you do," Yutzy said, remembering how the two loved listening to The Beatles. "Every year on Paul McCartney's birthday, we would literally bake a cake and eat it to celebrate."

She showed Hellgren the Christmas ornament she bought for the detective who cracked the case. It had his name and the word "hero" written on it.

"He told me some 10 or 11 months ago that he was going to solve this, and I knew in my heart by his voice, his words and his determination that he was the one," Yutzy said. "I can live with the fact that the suspect is deceased because he's not living his life. It's still painful. I feel numb. It's going to take a process. It has been 40 years."

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