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DNA could finally solve decades-old Arizona murder

Sposito was murdered on a popular Prescott hiking trail 35 years ago. Her killer has never been caught.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — It's a decades-old mystery that still haunts Arizona's high country.

On June 12, 1987, Cathy Sposito went out with her friends for dinner. The New York native was in Yavapai County for school, studying at Prescott College. She told her friends she planned to go hiking in the morning but they didn't realize they'd never see her again.

The next day, June 13, Sposito, 23, was murdered in broad daylight while hiking on the Thumb Butte Trail about 10 minutes outside of downtown Prescott. 

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office said she rode her bike to the trailhead at around 7 a.m. and started hiking. Later that day, she was found dead on the trail.

"You never want to give up hope," said Sal Sposito, Cathy's older brother, in an interview with 12News in 2021.

Sal Sposito still lives in New York but came out to Arizona a few years ago to see for himself the spot where his sister was killed. 

Investigators have yet to find the person responsible.

"It was shocking," Sal Sposito said, remembering the day he heard the tough news. "Something nobody wants to go through."

The trail is in part of the Prescott National Forest and is still a popular hiking spot in the area. The terrain is dense which meant that people could hear Cathy screaming for help, but no one could reach her in time to save her, according to investigators.

RELATED: Family of woman killed on popular Arizona hiking trail still asking answers 34 years later

Credit: Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office
Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office is offering a $10,000 cash reward for the cold-case murder of Cathy Sposito 34 years ago.

Over the years, investigators said it's possible that there could be more than one suspect. A motive has never been made clear.

"You have to keep all doors open," said Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes. 

Sheriff Rhodes says his team could be closer to reaching answers than ever before.

"I think if the case is solved, that it will definitely be DNA that did it," he said.

Advancements in DNA testing, like familial DNA, could crack this case wide open.

The Sheriff's Office has had luck before in solving decades-old mysteries.  

Earlier this year, DNA identified "Little Miss Nobody" as Sharon Lee Gallegos. It was a big lead in a more than 60-year-old cold case.

"We haven't found her killer yet, but, you know, finding out who she was was, was a huge win," Sheriff Rhodes said.

The cold case team on Cathy Sposito’s case is working to get DNA results from “biological evidence” from the scene that could turn into a new lead.

Sheriff Rhodes said the cold case team is made up of many volunteers who spend countless hours trying to move the case forward.

YCSO and Silent Witness are still asking for anyone who knows anything to come forward. There's a $10,000 reward for a tip that leads to an arrest.

If you know anything, you can call Yavapai Silent Witness at 1-800-932-3232 or submit a tip at www.yavapaisw.com. All tips are anonymous.

RELATED: 'There is someone out there that knows what happened': Nearly 40 years after the murder, Valley family seeks answers and justice

RELATED: DNA tech leads to break in 1989 murder, rape case in Mesa

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