DNA cold case: New Jersey man charged in 1999 bludgeoning death of high school senior

SAYREVILLE, N.J. — Genetic genealogists have once again used DNA evidence and ancestry websites to track down an alleged killer.

New Jersey authorities earlier this month announced the arrest of a Barnegat man who has been linked by genetics to the murder of Sayreville high schooler Nancy Kathleen Noga. The 17-year-old was reported missing Jan. 7, 1999, when she failed to come home from her part-time job.

A man walking his dog found the teen’s frozen body five days later, facedown in the snow behind a mini-mall on her route home. She was about 300 yards from the entrance to the apartment complex where she lived with her father and stepmother.

Bruce Cymanski, 49, is charged with first-degree murder, as well as kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, Sayreville police officials said. He is being held in the Middlesex County Jail.

The warrant for Cymanski’s arrest states that Noga was bludgeoned to death with a tree limb. The Star-Ledger in Newark previously reported that the teen had not been raped or robbed.

Her body, which took two days to thaw, was fully clothed in her purple “Arizona” jacket, a pair of flared jeans, a dark V-neck sweater and black-and-white platform sneakers. Her purple backpack still hung from her shoulder, according to the newspaper.

The discovery of Noga’s body shook the community, particularly at Sayreville War Memorial High School, where she was a senior. According to friends and family, Noga had already enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, with plans to begin basic training after graduation.

“She was here one day and gone the next,” a former classmate, Mary Jo Truchan, told the Home News Tribune in 2019. “I just remember the pure panic in the atmosphere, especially with the girls.

“No one was walking home at night by themselves. There was a buddy system.”

Sayreville Mayor Victoria Kilpatrick, a 1996 graduate of the high school Noga attended, told the newspaper she was in college when Noga was slain. She also worked at a bank near the spot where the teen’s body was found.

“It was terrifying within the town,” Kilpatrick said. “We were scared because you didn’t know who did this. It was terrible. I remember the fear and the shock waves that it sent through our town.”

Detectives conducted more than 500 interviews in the months after Noga’s killing, but no arrests were made. Investigators retired and were replaced by detectives with fresh eyes, all of whom never gave up on solving the case, Sayreville police Chief John Zebrowski said.

Cymanski was identified as a suspect through a joint investigation involving Zebrowski’s detectives and investigators with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. He was identified, in part, via genetic genealogy done by CeCe Moore, the chief genetic genealogist for Parabon Nanolabs.

Over the past few years, the Virginia-based Parabon has used preserved DNA evidence and public genealogy databases to help dozens of law enforcement agencies identify suspects in cold cases.

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Cymanski’s arrest warrant states that he was identified through DNA evidence, as well as witness statements. No additional details were given in the document.

He was arrested Sept. 1 near his home in Barnegat after a brief foot pursuit, authorities said.

“In the decades since Nancy Noga’s death, law enforcement has relentlessly pursued justice on her behalf. The advancement of modern scientific tools has allowed that endeavor to enter a new chapter,” Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone said in a joint statement.

Zebrowski said the arrest was the result of decades of hard work.

“We never stopped following up on leads, and today, with the arrest of Bruce Cymanski, we are one step closer to bringing a degree of justice and closure to the family,” the chief said.

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Moore wrote on Facebook that it was an “incredible experience” working with the detectives on the case.

“My heart goes out to Nancy’s family, and I hope they will get the answers they desire and so deserve as a result of this arrest,” she wrote.

Liza Walter-Larregui, who said Noga was her childhood best friend, expressed relief and gratitude on social media for Moore and the investigators who solved the case.

“When this first happened, I’d spend nights on my computer, before Google was a real thing, trying to figure out who the killer was,” Walter-Larregui wrote on Facebook. “I was determined to solve this.

“Grateful doesn’t begin to describe how I feel towards the professionals for doing the job I was unable to do at 16.”

Kilpatrick said that although the town laid Noga to rest 22 years ago, residents never forgot about her.

“I feel that today we can finally begin the healing process,” the mayor said. “It appears somebody will finally be held accountable and there will be justice for Nancy.”

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