(CNN)More than 52 years after 16-year-old Pamela Lynn Conyers was strangled to death in central Maryland, authorities say they've identified a suspect in her killing with the help of genetic genealogy.
The suspect, who police identified as Forrest Clyde Williams III, would have been 21 at the time of the killings. He died in Virginia, where he was originally from, in 2018 of "natural causes," Anne Arundel County Police Lt. Jackie Davis said in a Friday news conference.
If Williams was alive today, he would have been charged in the killing, police said. Davis said authorities were able to find a mug shot of the suspect because he had been arrested several times in the early 1970s -- after Pamela's killing -- for minor crimes including acting "drunk and disorderly."
Pamela, a high school student, went missing on October 16, 1970, after going on an errand run at a nearby mall, Davis told reporters.
Her body was found four days later just a short distance from where authorities recovered her abandoned car less than 24 hours earlier. A medical examiner ruled her cause of death asphyxiation due to strangulation and ruled her death a homicide, Davis added.
"She was quite simply doing what most 16-year-old high school students did back then: living her life, creating memories and spending precious moments with her family and friends. Simply celebrating and enjoying the essence of her teen years until her life was tragically, and selfishly taken," Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal Awad said.
"Pamela was never forgotten, nor will she ever be forgotten," the chief added.
How genetic genealogy helped
Police don't believe Williams and young Pamela had met before the teen's killing, Davis said.
Evidence collected at the crime scene during that time and evolved technology that didn't exist decades ago helped lead authorities to the suspect, police said.
"FBI agents use investigative genetic genealogy to generate new leads, when other investigative methods have been exhausted," said Thomas Sobocinski, special agent in charge with the FBI's Baltimore office.
Genetic genealogy combines DNA evidence and traditional genealogy to find biological connections between people -- and in recent years has helped detectives narrow down their lists of possible suspects in cold cases.
"We use crime scene DNA and its analysis to develop a profile," Sobocinski said. "We then use publicly accessible databases and information to identify potential relatives of a suspect or of the victim."
Based on those results, investigators then try to create a sort of family tree and "generationally work that tree down to somebody who may fit the age and gender profile," of the suspect, Sobocinski added.
The agent said he did not want to further elaborate on the process used in Pamela's case to avoid compromising the ongoing investigation.
Though he did not offer specifics, Sobocinski confirmed that investigators in the case had "gotten DNA samples from people" before finally identifying Williams as a suspect. But the agent declined to identify whose samples were drawn from or how they may have been related to Williams.
"When (Pamela) was murdered in 1970, investigative genetic genealogy did not exist, DNA analysis did not exist. The tools, both scientific and investigative, used to solve her murder have evolved," he said. "This technique gives the FBI a chance to solve cases that would not have been solved in any other way."
This is not a closed case, police say
Despite Friday's announcement, police say this case is not closed and are still asking members of the public who may know something about the killing to come forward with that information.
"It is very important for me to say that detectives and investigators have not ruled out the possibility that another person or persons may be involved in Pam's murder," Davis told reporters. "Because of that, we have to protect the integrity of the investigation and any potential future prosecutions."
It's why, Davis explained, police have not shared specific details about the case and crime scene.
Authorities also encouraged those who might have known Williams at the time of the murder to help shed light on how he and Pamela might have met.