STATEN ISLAND, New York -- Christa Nicole Belusko would be 33 today, but she hasn't been seen in over 30 years.
Authorities say Christa's last known sighting was with her mother in September 1991 at a lodge near Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, when she was 2.
The body of her mother, Christine Belusko, was found "brutally beaten, strangled, and burned" on Staten Island's east shore in 1991, according to Richmond County District Attorney Michael E. McMahon. Investigative work combined with forensic genealogy was used to confirm Belusko's identity in April 2021. Her identity was made public this week, over three decades since her "brutal and depraved" murder, he said.
"We have already notified (Belusko's) family of her death and we continue to make all efforts to also locate Christa Nicole so we can let her know about who her mother was and what has been done to bring justice to this case," McMahon said at a news conference Tuesday.
Belusko was only 30 when her body -- found face up, handcuffed, partially clothed and burned -- was left in a vacant lot, according to David Nilsen, chief investigator for the Richmond County District Attorney's Office. She was found with 17 blows to her head and a hammer was recovered at the scene, he said.
"Despite the incredibly dedicated work of the NYPD at that time, authorities were unable to identify her or locate the person who took her life so savagely and viciously at such a young age," McMahon said. "Nearly 30 years later, in a joint effort with the FBI, my incredible team of detective investigators working with the NYPD detectives picked up the case and working together, we employed the use of forensic genealogy technology unavailable in 1991, but invaluable in today's law enforcement world to bring closure and justice to those touched by crime."
Once Belusko was identified, authorities reached out to her living relatives, including her brother, and found that she had a two-year-old daughter at the time of her death, Nilsen said.
An age progression photo of Christa was released Tuesday and the search for Belusko's killer and the whereabouts of her daughter continues. There is currently no known information on who Christa's father is, McMahon said.
"We are seeking the public's assistance to solve the homicide of Christine Belusko and determine the whereabouts of Christa Nicole," Nilsen said.
Use of forensic genealogy led to identification of Christa's mother after 30 years
Until she was identified, Belusko was only known as the "the girl with the scorpion tattoo" for decades, McMahon said, referring to a distinctive scorpion tattoo found on her body.
Investigators believe the hammer recovered at the scene -- found under Belusko's body and with "Loyd L" engraved on the handle -- was used in her murder, Nilsen said.
Police were initially unable to identify the killer or the victim, leaving the case unsolved. An individual with the name "Loyd L" was identified, but "that's as far as it got," McMahon said.
"There was no other indication that he was involved. He couldn't be prosecuted or exonerated at that time given the circumstances that we knew," McMahon said, adding that the individual is no longer living.
In 2008, the DA's office revisited the homicide case and submitted her DNA and her dental records to the FBI, but that didn't result in any new leads. The case was revisited again in 2019 when McMahon decided to use forensic genealogy technology in a joint effort with the FBI, NYPD and New York Medical Examiner's Office, resulting in Belusko's identification around two years later, Nilsen said.
Prior to her death, Belusko lived in Clifton, New Jersey, and worked for a clothing store, McMahon and Nilsen said. Belusko was placed for adoption when she was an infant and was raised by a New Jersey couple, James Clinton, a spokesperson for the Richmond County DA's office said.
After she found out she was adopted, she left home in July 1991 and briefly stayed at the Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, Clinton confirmed.
None of Belusko's family members knew she was murdered, assuming she was safely living in Florida, according to The Charley Project, an organization that tracks missing people.
While the investigation into her murder is ongoing, McMahon said investigators believe her killer was known to her.
"There's absolutely no indication that this was done by anyone other than someone who knew her, given the facts of the case and what transpired in the way that she was murdered... That certainly makes us think that this was someone who knew her. It's an intimate type of murder," McMahon said.
If you recognize Christa Nicole or know anything about the murder of Christine Belusko, call the Richmond County District Attorney's Office at 718-556-7085.