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It was a horrific stabbing death, committed on a holy day and carried out on sacred ground.

Thirty years ago today, on April 13, 1979, Patricia Scinta Rodriguez was stabbed 108 times before her body was found later that morning in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna.

Her body was found, lying faceup, on a grave marker in an isolated section of the cemetery.

Not only was it Friday the 13th, but also Good Friday.

It's a case that still haunts veteran Lackawanna police detectives, and others who already have ridden off into retirement, because of its gruesomeness, its timing and its locale.

But now, 30 years later, Lackawanna police believe that there may be a chance of cracking this three-decades-old unsolved murder, thanks to a renewed interest in the case, some reinterviewing of people who knew the 21-year-old Rodriguez -- and, most importantly, advances in DNA technology.

For 30 years, this case has been less of a whodunit and more of a how-can-we-prove-it.

"We have a suspect in mind, but we've never been able to gather enough evidence to take it to court," said Capt. Ronald S. Miller, Lackawanna's chief of detectives. "We need that person's DNA, or someone who was at the scene to come forward."

Detectives always knew that this was no random killing, nor a botched robbery that turned violent. The 108 stab wounds told them that.

"It takes a concerted effort to stab somebody that many times," Miller has said. "If you pound your hand against a desk 100 times, your arm will get sore. There was an unbelievable amount of rage pent up in this individual. It's beyond words to stab somebody that many times. It's overkill."

Thirty years can dry up a lot of leads and silence some witnesses' voices, but police are confident that this case still can be solved. "We know for sure that there still are some people out there who know what happened," Miller said.

The State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation has taken an interest in the case and has been willing to go outside the Buffalo area, even out of state, to track down people who were with Rodriguez on the night before her killing or who were interviewed 30 years ago.

Why are detectives convinced that someone besides the killer knows what happened early that morning in April 1979?

Evidence at the scene, including multiple cigarette butts and beer cans, suggested that more than Rodriguez and her killer were there. And detectives have speculated that the killer probably needed help in disposing of both the murder weapon and his clothes, which had to be just drenched in blood.

Detectives also have high hopes for DNA advances. Rodriguez's clothing has been resubmitted to the local Central Police Services lab for up-to-date testing that could prove whose DNA was on those clothes.

Police know that the night before she was killed, Rodriguez left her two young children with her mother, before going to Danny Boys, a nightclub on Abbott Road in Lackawanna, to meet her estranged husband and some friends.

Rodriguez and her estranged husband left the bar together at 1:30 a.m., but witnesses reported seeing them return later. She was last seen walking alone on Ridge Road, and police don't know exactly what happened before she went to the cemetery.

At 9 a.m. that day, a cemetery worker found her body in an older section of the cemetery, about a mile from the now-closed Abbott Road nightclub.

She initially was listed as a Jane Doe.

Three surviving family members could not be reached to comment Sunday, but it's clear that Lackawanna police have a huge stake in bringing Rodriguez's killer to justice.

Just days before he retired in January, then-Lackawanna Police Chief Dennis J. O'Hara mentioned the Rodriguez case as a frustrating one that has stayed with him.

"Of all the cases I ever worked on, that one frustrates me," O'Hara said in a late December interview. "I was a detective at that time. I took all the evidence photos. I'll never forget the murder scene or the fact that it happened on a Friday the 13th, Good Friday, two days before Easter. . . . We felt we were close [to solving the case] a couple of times."

Detective Paul Sojda is still working the case. "I was on-the-job-training at the time," he said. "It was my first homicide, and it's been at the back of my mind for 30 years."

Miller said this case has bothered many retired police officers and detectives, because of its violence and because police always have had a suspect in mind and couldn't prove it.

"It would be closure for the family, first and foremost," Miller said. "And we'd really like to take a killer off the streets."

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Lackawanna police at 822-4900.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com