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How Police Identified Severed Head After 24-Year Mystery

New Jersey State Police|Times of Trenton/Hopewell Police(HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP, N.J.) -- A severed head found on a golf course 24 years ago has been identified using DNA evidence and may be linked to a serial killer, New Jersey police said Wednesday.

The head of 25-year-old Heidi Balch, who worked as a prostitute around Manhattan in 1988, was found on a Hopewell Township, N.J., golf course in 1989, but was only identified this month after collaboration between the New Jersey State Police and the Hopewell Township Police Department.

“It was shocking,” said Hopewell Township Police Chief George Meyer, who was one of the detectives called to the scene after the head was found near the seventh hole.

“Periodically, over the years, detectives would pick up the case and make efforts at identifying her,” he said. ”I kind of thought, ‘No, she is never going to be identified.’”

A break came when detectives realized the dumped head matched a story from serial killer Joel Rifkin, who claimed to have dismembered and dumped a victim named Susie around New Jersey, State Police Det. Sgt. Stephen Urbanski told ABC News. Rifkin was never convicted for the alleged crime, but is serving 200 years in prison for other murders.

Detectives decided to chase the story.

“The team obtained the names of all the prostitutes that were registered around the same time [from the NYPD],” Urbanski said.

They then compared the photos to the composite of the severed head. A woman named Susan Spencer seemed to be a match.

After chasing aliases and false Social Security numbers attached to the woman, a face on a missing persons website jumped out at Urbanski.

It was Heidi Balch.

The problem was, Balch wasn’t reported missing by her aunt until 2001 and when making the report, she told police that her niece was last seen in 1995.

Still, the team decided to pursue the lead and paid the aunt a visit. Not only did they learn that the sighting in 1995 was secondhand information, but Balch’s parents were alive and living in Baltimore.

“After interviewing [the aunt], we went down to Baltimore and grabbed the mom’s DNA,” Urbanski said.

The DNA was a match to the skull, closing the 24-year-old cold case.

“Looking at the horrific case, and after a lot of people worked on it, it was amazing it came to this,” Urbanski said. “It was a matter of finding those clues.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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