Investigators hope in the next several weeks to exhume the remains of a woman whose life and death have been a mystery ever since she was found more than three decades ago.
Jim Curtice, the Yakima County coroner, has an estimate of the exhumation cost from West Hills Memorial Park, the cemetery where the 30- to 40-year-old woman, believed to be Native, is buried. He is working with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, which requested that she be exhumed for DNA samples.
“We will work together on financing. It will cost from $4,000 to $5,000,” Curtice said. “We will exhume her, locate some good DNA material and put her back into the ground.”
On Feb. 16, 1988, a horseback rider found her remains on the Yakama Indian Reservation, near Parker Dam and the unincorporated community of Parker. Authorities think she was murdered.
Anthropologists are involved, and Curtice hopes to complete the exhumation by early fall. If it’s going to happen this year, it needs to happen then, he said.
“It can’t be any later than that because of water issues with the cemetery,” Curtice said. “So we’ll see what we find.”
DNA was never taken from the woman’s remains. Detective Sgt. Judd Towell of the Sheriff’s Office has said getting her DNA is crucial. “There is no use pursuing anything until we get that,” he has said.
The woman likely disappeared sometime in 1987. She was petite — around 5 feet tall — and wore a long-sleeved blouse, lavender pants and brown bowling shoes when she was found. Because of the location of the remains, which were found along a dirt road running parallel to the Yakima River, detectives have investigated her death as a homicide.
Clothing, hair and fingernail trimmings — which could be tested for DNA — are among the evidence already collected in her case, Towell has said.
“There is a possibility we have evidence that could have DNA,” he said. But that’s not ideal, and it would be better to have DNA from the remains, he added.
Towell requested the exhumation a few days after Capt. Monica Alexander of the Washington State Patrol hosted a meeting at the Yakima Convention Center with Craig Bill, director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, on Oct. 29, about missing and murdered indigenous women.
No one knows exactly how many Native girls and women have gone missing on or near the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation. Many cases of missing people or mysterious deaths of women and men remain unsolved. During a 2008 FBI investigation spurred by rumors of a serial killer, investigators found as many as 32 cases dating back to 1980.
DNA technology has advanced drastically in the decades since the young woman died. New technology has allowed law enforcement to use familial DNA searches to track down suspects. A familial DNA search was used to track down the Golden State Killer earlier this year.
In this case, the technique could be used to compare the woman’s DNA to possible relatives.