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Tracking the Unidentified Dead

Nobody knows the last thought that went through her head, but Little Rock homicide Detective John “J.C.” White knows the last thing was a bullet.

 

Have You Seen Me? -- Little Rock Police still want to know who this woman was. If you have any information, contact Det. John "J.C." White in homicide at 501-371-4660 or jwhite@littlerock.org.

Have You Seen Me? — Little Rock Police still want to know who this woman was. If you have any information, contact Det. John “J.C.” White in homicide at 501-371-4660 or jwhite@littlerock.org.

   She wore Arizona-brand carpenter jeans with a black leather belt and a large brown T-shirt. Over this, an extra-extra large dark blue windbreaker and jumpsuit pants while white-and-blue Reeboks clad her feet. A gold-and-silver link bracelet hung from her wrist. Standing between 5’3” and 5’7” with black hair and a nose broken earlier in life, the black woman could have been anywhere between 18 and 40.

   On a walk with its owner in August 2002, a dog uncovered her tennis shoes and bones face-down under a pile of pink insulation behind an abandoned-looking house at 2772 Reservoir Road. The first responding officer would have started the investigation by preserving the scene, especially any physical evidence that would lead to identification of the victim or a suspect.

   Dr. Cheryl May, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Criminal Justice Institute, estimated the victim’s body had been there for several months. Inventory of her various clothes would later help with educated guesses of her overall size.  Pictures of the scene show an apparently abandoned house, but crime scene investigators found nothing of evidentiary value like a bullet casing or murder weapon – though they did find more of her teeth.

   “Once you’ve exhausted everything on the scene, hopefully by then you’ve got her identified. And we just haven’t even gotten to the point of getting her identified yet,” White says. “We don’t know where to start. We got initial phone calls about what could have happened, this, that and the other, but in following up on that information, we always found out that the person who we thought that might’ve been killed was actually alive. Therefore that lead has been exhausted, so we move on to the next. At this point we just don’t have anything, we don’t have anything whatsoever. It’s frustrating, very frustrating.”

   Occasionally White works suicides, accidental deaths and deaths of homeless victims that result in an unidentified body prior to an examination by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory. But the black female from six years ago represents the only unidentified homicide victim in White’s current caseload.

A walk through claustrophobic hallways occasionally turns passer-bys sideways within the four-story concrete and steel Pulaski County Administration Building. Garland Camper starts his third month on the third floor as full-time Pulaski County Coroner since assuming the post May 9 after nearly 14 years as chief deputy coroner. A grandson of a cemetery caretaker, Camper serves as the state’s only appointed coroner in 75 counties.

   Family pictures dot the wall and various other nooks around his office; his Dell computer sits next to a window while current case files cover his desk. He also keeps a framed photo of the 2005 Asian tsunami’s carnage hanging on the wall. The surreal sight shows bodies littering a beach like match boxes emptied in waves over a floor.

   While working with Kenyon International Emergency Services, he spent a month in Thailand supervising a team of embalmers and forensic investigators sent to identify and recover foreign visitors and casualties, ultimately repatriating the bodies to the country of their origin. He worked with the company again for two months supervising the recovery teams for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The water damage from the storm ruined medical records and the like, requiring investigators to cross link bodies with addresses or information provided through a phone bank from family members seeking their loved ones. Camper stayed until the coroner’s office could respond to its usual daily caseload.

   With academic training bolstered by professional experience, Camper has previously identified migrant workers from only three fingers found at a scene. He also worked a case where previous surgery on the deceased’s leg left two metal rods, each with a serial number.

   “We matched them with the body that was recovered,” Camper says. “There was quite a bit of the body that wasn’t recovered. He’d been in the river for several months, so we recovered just a portion of him. But we identified that he was that particular individual by those surgical rods that had been put in. We use all different types of things for identification purposes.”

White estimates that the Little Rock Police Department averages an unidentified body every one or two years. Camper says 20-30 bodies a year start as unidentified cases, but only three-to-four remain unidentified. The state medical examiner estimates of more than 1,000 cases annually investigated by the medical examiner, only 1-to-2 percent ultimately remain unidentified.

   The process of recovering remains begins with a scene investigation where the remains were discovered. Investigators search for items that may help identify the individual, e.g. if the body is found in a house, they look for mail or something that may have a name associated with the address to provide a lead on an individual.

   Usually that provides enough information to identify the corpse. If not, Camper turns to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System), which provides a nationwide online search of all fingerprints from military to local booking for jails. After fingerprints, he turns to dental records and deoxyribonucleic acid, i.e. DNA.

   “There are 75 different counties in the state of Arkansas, and probably all 75 different coroners do it their own different way,” Camper says.

A touch of pride tinges Ken Denison’s voice when noting bodies discovered in Sebastian County have always been identified – despite some obstacles – during his 10 years at the Fort Smith office, including nearly two as the elected coroner:

  • It took dental records to identify a body buried for three months.
  • An electronic food stamp led to a warrant in Alma that identified another man.
  • An unburned wallet led to the identification of a body charred in a semi-truck.
  • Dental records also identified a minister and his grandson pulled out of a head-on collision.

   “There’s always someone to identify a body if the coroner is doing their job. We search diligently for (identities to) the homeless we find,” Denison said. “There’s always a way if the county follows procedure. I refuse to sign a death certificate to sweep something under the carpet. I owe that family the responsibility of (letting them know) how (the person) died.”

   Milton Harbison, Craighead County’s chief deputy coroner, says the crime lab often repeats steps to make sure nothing is missed, e.g. in addition to copies of the coroner’s pictures, the crime lab takes its own photographs. Evidence collected at the scene will be sent to the crime lab, but separately from the body. Harbison often contacts the crime lab prior to leaving the crime scene. In such cases, the coroner does not draw blood or urine from the victim, but instead uses a “pristine body bag with minimal contact.”

   “Once we pick up the body, nobody can view the body for fear of disrupting the crime scene,” he says.

   Once at the crime lab, every unidentified body will be fingerprinted if possible. If blood exists, a sample is taken for DNA testing; if not, the lab attempts to get an adequate sample by other means. The lab primarily uses fingerprints, X-rays, blood samples and dental charting to identify remains.

   The medical examiner’s office holds files on every individual investigated at the crime lab since 1981. Dr. Charles Kokes, the state’s chief medical examiner at the crime lab, said his staff recently pulled every case file on Arkansas’ unidentified bodies to see what can or must be done to update each file with current technology. With increased interest in the field due to shows like CSI, more people know about the scientific tools used for identification and other forensic work … and they want to help.

   “It’s amazing how hard people look for people and not find the body,” Kokes says. “We have dental records people sent us in hopes that when the body is found, we can identify them. They were convinced their family member was dead.”

 

Evidence -- This bracelet provided one of the few pieces of evidence at the scene of the 2002 homicide. It hung on the bones of the decomposed body.

Evidence — This bracelet provided one of the few pieces of evidence at the scene of the 2002 homicide. It hung on the bones of the decomposed body.

   When the unidentified black female got to the crime lab, tests could not match her identity. White believes the crime lab found some DNA, but is unsure how much. If any DNA were found, White says the crime lab would have entered it into a database. But that only covers a limited portion of the population.

   “Just because you’re arrested, they’re not going to automatically put you into a DNA database,” White says. “Usually sexual predators have been put into a DNA database once their convicted, and there’s some selected others that are put in the DNA database.”

   The crime lab took additional pictures of the jewelry and clothing she wore. Still, no luck identifying her.

Sometimes, the coroner or the crime lab will identify a body, but there is no family to contact. Camper notes a segment of Little Rock contains primarily poor homeless people estranged from their families.

   “When we find those people in certain areas of the city, naturally we can still identify them because some of them have been in the system and have prints on file,” he says. “So usually that’s not an issue about the identification, it’s about what to do with them after we process them.”

   Occasionally people die in hospitals but have not made funeral arrangements nor listed any next of kin. When this happens, Camper relies on the hospital’s social work department to arrange to have those cremated, but assists them with the process of notifying the county judge of an indigent case and seeking permission for that particular institution to cremate.

   In some parts of the state, people still step forward to take care of funeral arrangements in cases where a body is identified but relatives cannot be found.

   “Even though Arkansas is growing, we’re still rural,” Washington County Coroner Roger Morris says. “We still have friends who will step forward. They’ll ask, ‘Can we do this?’”

   In those cases, he’ll contact the county judge in Fayetteville after three weeks and ask that the body be released to the deceased’s friends for a funeral. Any religious ceremonies – or lack thereof – are up to the funeral home and the individual who takes rights for entombment, Morris says.

Sometimes investigators identify the body and find the family – to no avail.

   Arkansas Coroner’s Association President Leonard Krout, who serves as Pope County’s coroner, said an increasing number of families either don’t want anything to do with the deceased or don’t have the money to take care of the arrangements. Compared to 1989, when no identified bodies went unclaimed, now Pope County averages three-to-four annually.

   “We’re not close-knit like (people) used to be,” he claims. “Now we have families who desert their family members. They’ll start working with the funeral home, find out the costs and never come back.”

   With half the year remaining, the $900 Krout set aside for indigent funerals is nearly gone. If more cases occur, he plans to transfer money from other places in his budget or else go to the Quorom Court to ask for additional appropriations.

   Considering so few bodies go unidentified, ACA Secretary/Treasurer Stuart Smedley cannot understand why his county must cremate approximately a half a dozen bodies each year.

   “It’s not that many as far as sheer numbers, but yes, the family structure in our society has crumbled as far as I’m concerned,” the Garland County coroner says. “It’s quite often I contact next of kin and their response is ‘So, why are you bothering me?’ Personally I cannot fathom that. It’s amazing the lack of concern or respect that families have.

   “That’s odd to me, that’s not the way I was raised.”

   Ouachita County Chief Deputy Coroner Allen Bass notes once every couple of years, families place a member into a nursing home and forget them. When the resident dies, nobody claims the deceased, leaving the county to handle arrangements. In northwest Arkansas’ Sebastian County, one decedent hadn’t seen his brothers in 12 years and they would not claim him. But Denison found a number to another family member who plans to claim him.

   “Death does funny things to people,” he says.

   Rob Donner, funeral director for Jonesboro’s Emerson Funeral Home, considers a body “abandoned” if no relatives can be found or if no one wants to assume the financial responsibility. He estimates it occurs between 12-to-15 times per year. In such cases, family members sign a form relinquishing responsibility for the act of making funeral arrangements and financial costs. Once signed, the funeral home provides the document to the county judge to get a court order for cremation. Saline County Coroner Will Bearden sends a statement to relatives who cannot pay that indicates what the county plans to do prior to getting the judge’s order for cremation.

   As the largest county in the state, Pulaski County receives more cases than most. While the county holds the bodies in storage for as long as possible, they’re cremated when necessary. In mid-June, the county cremated 10 bodies, all of whom had been identified.

   “They were identified, people just wouldn’t take responsibility for them,” Camper says. “There were several, four or five, that we could not find next of kin. Either next of kin were notified and chose not to take responsibility to bury them or there was no next of kin located. We’re seeing it more and more. We run into that five to six times a year, I would say at least.”

Nevada County Coroner William Mullins still gets questions about “Old Mike,” the traveling salesman who died under a tree in Prescott’s city park in 1911.

   In an extreme example of the efforts to identify the dead, the embalmed body set in front of the Cornish Funeral Home for 64 years in southwest Arkansas. A description of the body and a request to help identify it appeared in the newspapers and on the radio. No one ever claimed “Old Mike,” and a 1975 state order led to his burial in Deann Cemetery.

   Unlike bodies found in houses, nursing homes or hospitals, clues seldom exist for the unidentified. A typical unidentified body will likely be that of a homeless person who may be in Little Rock one week and another city the next. Camper says they seldom get jobs that provide a paper trail and they often do not interact with family.

   While careful not to insinuate the unidentified black female he’s investigating definitely fits the description, Detective White currently works from the idea that she’s most likely a transient.

   “Because if you think about it, your typical female that’s married with a husband and children at home, they turn up missing and you’re going to get a phone call, ‘Hey, this person’s missing,’” White says. “We haven’t had that. We haven’t had anything similar, anything fitting her description here in the city of Little Rock.”

   The detective called other state agencies and provided a description of the remains, clothing and bracelet. Still no luck.

Though the technology has advanced, occasionally investigators cannot identify the dead. As most anyone who’s watched Hollywood’s version of forensics knows, body tissue provides DNA that can be used for identification. But sometimes investigators only find the bones of the dead.

   In late spring this year, loggers found a skull in Mullins’ jurisdiction. Upon further investigation, investigators dug up a shallow grave and sent everything to the crime lab. Though Mullins thinks it’s likely the remains of a man missing since November 2006, he wants to be sure.

   Smedley tells of a skull found in a creek in June 2007. Investigators found nothing else found anywhere in Garland County. Smedley thinks the skull may have washed away from an old cemetery, but he wants to be sure.

   Kokes notes county coroners funnel such cases to the crime lab. Yet he seldom receives a complete skeletal recovery because bones fall apart at the joints, leaving a partial skeleton. Animals compound the problem by scattering the remains.

   “Given the rural nature of the state, it’s not uncommon for hunters in the fall to be in the woods and come across skeletonized bodies,” Kokes says. “It could happen anywhere.”

   While investigations continue, the crime lab keeps skeletonized remains in a box at room temperature, sometimes for years. Kokes and his chief investigator will soon leave for a conference on missing persons in Ft. Worth in hopes of determining what to do with the accumulation of skeletonized remains from open cases. The crime lab freezes bodies that are either decomposed or relatively intact with substantial amounts of soft tissue.  At any given time, Kokes says mortuary storage boxes hold six-to-eight bodies in the large walk-in freezer.

You could say some of the unidentified dead wished it that way.

   An influx of non-U.S. citizens into Arkansas includes some workers using fake names and identification. Though most often identified with a proper name, some presumptive Hispanic individuals die but are not identified; some of those identified have no known relatives.

   “If they die and are only using a fake name, how do you even know they exist?” Kokes asks concernedly.

   In his eight years at the coroner’s office (the last two as coroner via election), Smedley vividly remembers a gentlemen enrolling in a hospice program who died in Hot Springs. While moving the man from the regular hospital bed to hospice, they discovered his name, date of birth and social security number were not valid, but came from someone who had died 15 years ago.

   Smedley took fingerprints, but did not get any returns from IAFIS. He sent the body to the medical examiner’s office, but their testing could not find a match. Eventually, the county cremated the body.

   “I spent a year trying to identify this guy,” Smedley says. “The body was at the crime lab over the year with us exhausting everything we could to identify the guy. The cause and manner of his death was not the issue. The reason he died was not in question; it was from natural causes.”

 

Who Am I? -- Union county officials continue searching for the identity of this unidentified woman.

Who Am I? — Union county officials continue searching for the identity of this unidentified woman.

   The murder of a white prostitute in an El Dorado motel also turned out to be a stolen identity case. Though her murderer now spends time incarcerated, investigators still wonder who the woman was. Union County Coroner Curtis Butterfield had been working as a deputy coroner a little over a year when the murder occurred in 1991; he won his first election for county coroner six years ago.

   “We never did find out her true identity,” Butterfield says. “The police had her Social Security number and identification card. It had her parents’ name on it. They called the house to make an ID on it and a 21-year-old answered the phone. They asked to speak with the parents:

   “‘Might I ask what you’re calling for?’ she asked. They told her they were looking for this lady.

   “‘You’re talking to the one you’re trying to say is dead,’ she said.”

   Butterfield traced the unidentified female from southeast Arkansas to Shreveport, Little Rock, Florida and a little town outside Dallas, where she had been living with friends. But the leads dried up. After the body sat at the crime lab for an extended period, the county had to cremate it.

   Butterfield has spoken with representatives of the Doe Network, a volunteer organization whose members spend their free time searching databases trying to match missing person’s descriptions with those of the unidentified dead. For Arkansas, the network currently lists three unidentified females and five unidentified males, including two from Pulaski County.

   The Union County case, case file 81UFAR, shows pictures of the woman. Though Butterfield’s been contacted numerous times with leads from the Doe Network, nothing panned out. In the few cases that appeared close, the physical characteristics did not match.

 

Reconstruction -- A Michigan State Trooper reconstructed the face of the unidentified woman whose bones were uncovered off Little Rock's Resevoir Road in August 2002. The trooper used the actual teeth found at the scene when recreating the individual's likeness.

Reconstruction — A Michigan State Trooper reconstructed the face of the unidentified woman whose bones were uncovered off Little Rock’s Resevoir Road in August 2002. The trooper used the actual teeth found at the scene when recreating the individual’s likeness.

   The Doe Network also lists Little Rock’s unidentified black female as case file 517UFAR. An offshoot of the network, Project EDAN (an acronym for “everyone deserves a name”), provides police departments with the aid of artists who sketch or sculpt models of unidentified individuals in hopes of providing a glimpse of the person’s features.

   White sent the skull with a single bullet hole marring its crown and all of the collected teeth to Michigan State Trooper Sarah Krebs in July 2006. By November she emailed White, attaching images of the visage that likely once graced the cranium and mandible. The facial reconstruction even contained the victim’s teeth.

   For a few brief moments in 2006, the 2002 homicide made news again. No luck again.

According to a 2007 National Crime Information Center report, 6,945 unidentified person records existed in the NCIC database last year. Investigators entered more unidentified individuals into the system than the year before, including 1,448 deceased unidentified bodies, 23 unidentified catastrophe victims, and 317 living persons who could not ascertain their identity. Yet last year, fewer records cleared or canceled – identified remains or invalid case – than in 2006.

   Anything the crime lab examined in the last 10 years has had a DNA workup, though Kokes said anything prior probably does not. He enters information into CODIS (Combined DNA Indexing System for Missing Persons), but notes the DNA must be identified against other DNA previously collected in the database.

   Kokes does not use the Doe Network or NAMUS, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System launched in July 2007. According to the Web site, the system plans to link records of missing persons with unidentified decedents by 2009.

   “In the relative near future what we hope to do is get this information into the national databases so it’s there for comparison and hopefully get some of our unknowns identified,” Kokes says.

   Camper knew of NAMUS, but hasn’t had time to respond to it – few cases aren’t identified and other deaths must be investigated. Krout said some dedicated coroners might enter data if they had a computer, but 60 percent only work part-time as a coroner with a full-time job in some capacity for a funeral home.

   “Out of the 75 counties, it would be pushing it that five to 10 would take the time to do (enter information into the database),” he says. “Some are dedicated and they will.”

   After the state finishes its investigation, decisions must be made. The crime lab collects evidence, but Kokes says it is not a storage facility. State law requires the lab to hold remains for six months. After that, he contacts the county judge in the county of origin, which is legally responsible for the disposition of the remains. Plans call for processing remains held in essentially long-term storage at the crime lab and giving them back to the county of origin.

   “This was part of a person at one time,” Kokes says. “To just have them sitting up here at the crime laboratory, it is fulfilling a need, but the person needs some respect.”

   Arkansas may have its share of potter’s fields and pauper graves, but few counties bury the dead anymore. In April 2006, then-Attorney General Mike Beebe gave a legal opinion stating that counties could order the bodies of indigents cremated without the obligation of paying for it, as long as a thorough search is made for next of kin.

   Allen Bass works at Proctor Funeral Home in Camden, “a small town where everybody knows everybody and we kind of make it a point to know everybody.” He also serves as Ouachita County’s chief deputy coroner and only recalls two instances of not finding the deceased’s family.

   “We had a lady of some means whom relatives put in a nursing home, then took the money and ran,” Bass says. “In that case, the funeral home took care of her and gave her a proper burial. We don’t cremate most of the time because we need the next of kin’s signature. We probably could, but we don’t. We give them a proper burial. There’s a cemetery in town owned by the city where we bury people at no charge.

   “We think it’s the only proper thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

   … but not necessarily the most economical. Burials include caskets and the containers to hold them, depending on a cemetery’s requirements. Krout estimates a cheap funeral costs between $2,000-$3,000; many counties cannot afford that. He estimates cremation runs anywhere from $500-$1,000; Kokes and Krout suggest most counties have turned to this alternative for the indigent population.

   Some counties use pauper’s funds administered by a county judge, e.g. funeral homes petition the Garland County judge for a $500 payment to handle the cremation. Craighead County spends about $250 for cremations, unless there’s no money; then there’s just a court order and cremation at Jonesboro’s Emerson Funeral Home.

   “(In one case) we already had court order, but we like to have a family member sign off on the cremation,” Donner says. “If you bury someone, you can always exhume the body, but a cremation is very final.”

   Pulaski County does not bury bodies. After a significant amount of time, Camper petitions County Judge Buddy Villines to cremate the bodies (Villines said he thinks it costs the county about $120 per body). Occasionally individuals will pay afterwards for the cremation, but Camper says that seldom occurs, leaving the county to often foot the bill.

   “So what we do is we try to make the best judgment we can and the most economical judgment we can for the citizens of Pulaski County, because ultimately they are responsible for taking care of these people with their tax dollars,” Camper says.

   Arkansas Central Mortuary Service often cremates dead bodies held by Pulaski and Saline counties. Randy Davis, a state-licensed embalmer for ACMS, notes it’s one of the largest of seven or eight crematoriums in the state due to its location in the capitol. Following the county judges order, Davis estimates ACMS cremates between two and 10 bodies a year depending on the death rate and the number of indigent cases. ACMS returns the cremains to the county where they were court-ordered to be cremated.

   For Camper and others, any religious artifact turning up in an investigation provides another lead for coroners to track down. Most counties do not consider religious preferences when determining burial versus cremation, nor religious ceremonies prior to the final act. But some still do; Bass says Ouachita County uses information from nursing homes and hospitals to determine religious preference. Upon death, a minister of that denomination will preside over the service.

   “The first year I was there, a lady in the nursing home died who was a Jehovah’s Witness,” he says. “The church knew her because she was a member, but she had no family. When she passed away, the funeral home took care of the charges and the minister and church members gave her a proper burial.”

   Donner recalls one instance where last rites could not be performed for a Catholic body because it was too long after death; he also remembered a Baptist minister once performed a short ceremony for a known Baptist. Kokes notes it’s not likely that Arkansas would have many unidentified or unclaimed bodies of the Jewish or Muslim faiths, both of which forbid cremation.

   Not every county handles the cremation order in the same manner. Krout said Pope County may follow the lead of Garland and Saline counties by writing a coroner’s order for cremation when the body becomes a “health hazard” after five days of storage.

   Following a cremation, Sebastian County keeps ashes for six months before interring them in a section of the old Fort Smith cemetery. Saline County allows families with proof of relation to pick up the cremains in Benton if they choose, though Bearden says it doesn’t happen very often. Pope County follows a similar procedure if the family reimburses the county.

   Pulaski County holds cremains going back to the turn of the 21st century in various morgue facilities. In a general department head meeting a few weeks ago, a discussion arose concerning what could be done with the remains. Suggestions included spreading the remains in a local cemetery or rose garden, but Camper said the discussion was tabled for now.

   “We don’t want to throw away somebody’s loved one and not allow them the chance to have some type of closure,” he says. “Although they have not had the chance to properly mourn them, we’d like to leave that option open. But as the years go on, at some point in time we’re going to have to decide something that we can do with them.”

 

All That Remains -- This box contains cremains. Most counties in Arkansas cremate the unidentified bodies as a cost-saving measure.

All That Remains — This box contains cremains. Most counties in Arkansas cremate the unidentified bodies as a cost-saving measure.

A cremation box stands 76”x24”x14”; cremains fit into a small box that would fit in your hand. After placing a pen on top of the cremains box to provide some perspective on its dimensions, Camper suggested I remove it.

   “That disrespects the dead,” he chided with an uneasy laughter.

   For Camper, it’s safe to say it would be more troubling to not be able to identify a child or a teen compared to not being able to identify someone who has lived a full life. But he says unidentified bodies seldom bother him.

   “No, I can’t say that because it’s the nature of the work,” Camper proclaims. “We do what we can. Sometimes we know that we’re not going to be able to achieve the results that we want. I know there are plenty of parents that are missing kids who would love to know that everybody we (find) that we can identify them. But there are some instances where there are cases that just aren’t identified. My heart and my prayers go out to those individuals.”

Detective White nears his 12th year in homicide, half of which will have been spent looking for the unidentified black female. She stares at him every day from a flyer featuring three angles of her facial reconstruction and close-ups of the bracelet and teeth. It hangs at eye level on the wall next to a desk supporting folders filled with four old homicides that must currently be put aside due to active leads in another investigation.

   For four months each year, he works odd shifts as a general detective handling robberies, thefts, domestic abuse – literally any case brought in by patrol. Even then, he’s responsible for homicide investigation, his primary duty. A tired, distant look clouds his face.

   “Sometimes you take your work home with you,” White says. “But you get back after it the next morning.”

   He hangs his hopes on the reconstruction photo. For an unidentified case this old, hope may be all that remains. At this point, he insists he’d be happy identifying her even if he never identified a suspect in her slaying. He just needs a little luck.

   “Maybe somebody seeing something, maybe it’ll trigger something,” White says. “Somebody saying, ‘Hey, that looks like somebody I know.’ And then we say, ‘OK, well does this piece of jewelry look familiar?’ ‘Well yeah, that’s my great-grandmother’s, she gave it to my Aunt Melba six weeks ago.’ You know it’s stuff like that you would need to say it’s positively her. Her dental records; we have teeth, but where do we get dental records? We can’t put them against everybody in the United States. It’d be nice. If we had somebody to say, ‘Hey it might be this person.’ OK, who’s her dentist, let’s get the dental records. Let’s send them to the crime lab.

   “So I mean there’s still hope in this case. We just need someone to say, ‘Hey, that looks like my Aunt Betty.’”

******

For more information, visit the following:

The National Center for Missing Adults: http://www.theyaremissed.org/


This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of the Arkansas Free Press.

Word Count: 5,299 words

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