Police identify remains of child murdered nearly 40 years ago

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Thanks to new technology and persistent police work, investigators in Tempe have identified the remains of a 4-year-old girl who was murdered four decades ago, closing a cold case.

The body of Surette Clark was found in a shallow grave in Tempe on March 24, 1979. At the time, investigators were not able to identify the remains. Because of that, the case was labeled "Jane Doe."

According to police, Surette was killed in November 1970, but the murder was not reported until 1994. At that time, a family member came forward and told police that Surette's step-father, Wayne Clifford Roberts, might have murdered the child. Roberts, who had moved to Canada with Surette's mother, was tried and convicted of killing Surette in 1996.

Roberts maintained that Surette's death was an accident, which is one of the reasons it went unreported for so long. Police said that's also why the little girl's mother left the country with Roberts.

Investigators never gave up on finding Surette's body, not knowing that her remains and been found years ago but never identified.

Working together, detectives from Tempe and Phoenix took a close look at the 1979 Jane Doe case and the murder of Surette Clark. They found several elements that lined up.

"Looking at the reports, the cases matched, the time line matched and the victim's description matched," said Tempe Police Detective Tom Magazzeni in a news release.

Magazzeni compared a DNA sample from Jane Doe to Surette's biological mother. The Department of Public Safety Crime Lab found that the samples matched. Just to be sure, investigators also compared the Jane Doe DNA to that of Surette's biological father, who died earlier this year. Once again, the samples matched. That confirmed that Jane Doe was indeed Surette Clark.

DNA analysis was not available when Surette's body was found more than 30 years ago. What this case boils down to, however, is good police work by persistent investigators.

"We had lots of detectives from Tempe police, Phoenix police, DPS Crime Lab was involved, Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office -- people that just wouldn't give up on this case," said Sgt. Steve Carbajal of the Tempe Police Department. "We don't give up on our victims. This is something that was very important to those detectives."

Roberts was paroled last year. Because he was already tried and convicted of Surette's murder, he will not face additional charges.

"What this does for us is bring closure to the family members," Carbajal said. "It also really illustrates on a bigger picture how Valley agencies continue work together. ... The suspect has been charged, tried, convicted. And to continue to work that case -- never give up on that case -- is tremendous. It illustrates how detectives never give up on victims and their families. ... Forty years after the death of Surette, we were able to bring at least some peace to her family."

Carbajal said that Surette's mother, who cooperated in Roberts' prosecution and helped bring about his conviction, probably will not face any charges.