New grave marker for Mich. victim of 1982 Lake Tahoe killing

Marcella Corona
Reno Gazette Journal

Reno, Nev. – Mary Silvani was lost to her family and friends for 37 years.

Her burial site remained unmarked for decades at a cemetery in northwest Reno. For a while, the only thing marking her grave was a blue water utility flag.

Washoe County Sheriff's investigators displayed this family tree created by the DNADoeProject during a news conference in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

“She in her own right was lost in the world, and then she was found,” said Christine Luna, the operations manager for Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Cemetery. “She was not lost to God.”

The Diocese of Reno recently donated a granite marker with Mary’s name carved at the top, the Reno Gazette Journal reports. It’s decorated with budding rose vines that twist up the sides, and at the bottom, there’s a heartfelt message crafted by two of her remaining relatives.

The message reads: “Our lost angel has been taken to heaven. You have been found and will never be lost again.”

Silvani – previously known only as “Sheep’s Flat Jane Doe” – was just 33 years old when she was brutally murdered. Her body was discovered on a Lake Tahoe hiking trail off of Mt. Rose Highway in 1982.

Eventually, investigators identified her killer as James Richard Curry, a Texas native and serial killer who confessed to three California murders in January 1983 – five months after Silvani’s death.

New DNA IDs Mich. victim, killer in 1982 Tahoe murder

Silvani had been raped and shot twice in the head, according to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.

Her body was never identified because no one had reported her missing. So, she was named after the area where she was found.

“Mary’s life needs to be commemorated,” Luna said.

For years, investigators worked to identify Silvani through DNA, fingerprints, and dental records. They sorted through hundreds of missing person reports for anyone who matched her description.

Then in February last year, forensic investigators attended a lecture by the DNA Doe Project and IdentiFinders International and started working with those organizations.

The technique used in the investigation of the Golden State Killer was also used to solve Silvani’s murder.

Investigators used the victim’s DNA to track down former relatives, including two distant cousins who used ancestry sites to research their family trees.

One of those cousins was New York City native Angel Capriles.

“There are so many questions that we don’t know like why she didn’t come back to the Bronx,” Capriles said, adding her mother grew up with Mary. “Everyone assumed she had a good life.”

Investigators also found Silvani’s nephew, Robert Silvani Jr., a Detroit native who now lives in Newport, Michigan.

The Detroit Police Department also played a crucial role. Investigators there had kept a set of Silvani’s fingerprints from a 1974 misdemeanor loitering case. They found the decades-old fingerprint card after digging through old archives in a massive warehouse and were able to confirm her identity.

Then there were the forensic genealogists who uploaded snippets of the victim’s DNA into a database called GEDMatch. This led them to her cousins, her nephew and eventually her parents: John and Blanche Silvani of Detroit.

When Mary Silvani’s parents died, she remained in Detroit. Silvani and her two brothers lived together in Detroit so that she could finish high school.

Eventually, they all moved to California and went their separate ways.

Teresa Stultz loves designing markers for grieving families. She was the one who designed Silvani’s new marker, which will be placed at her gravesite this week.

“To me, it’s about memorializing them by picking the right design,” Stultz said.

Stultz, a former nail technician, has worked as a family services advisor at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Cemetery for four years. She said she believes it’s essential for people to place deceased loved ones at a final resting site because it allows them to grieve and move forward.

“It’s the most rewarding job I have ever done; it really is,” she said. “It’s amazing when you can hold someone’s hand and say, ‘I can be there for you.’”

Stultz said Silvani’s nephew had called the cemetery about buying a marker.

“At that point, we had already decided to donate the marker, and he just broke down in tears, and I cried,” she said.

Robert Silvani Jr., whose father was Mary Silvani’s brother, said the donation saved him more than $1,000. It was a price he couldn’t afford, he said.

“I just think it’s wonderful that someone cares that much, and they’re not even family,” Silvani said. “They did that for someone they don’t even know; it’s awesome.”

Capriles said the message on her cousin’s new marker came to her in a dream.

“I am so grateful to everyone who cares and still cares because, if it weren’t for these people, she would still be out there with a blue flag,” Capriles said in a broken voice. “I just think about all the people out there who don’t even have a blue flag.”

Although they haven’t decided on a date, Silvani and Capriles said they’re planning on organizing a public memorial service for Mary Silvani.

“I’m just very happy that Mary knows we’re thinking about her every day,” Robert Silvani said.