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Forensics team working to identity woman found near Plainview in 1982

Published: Feb. 10, 2015 at 1:29 AM CST|Updated: Aug. 11, 2015 at 12:29 AM CDT
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Texas Ranger Tony Arnold
Texas Ranger Tony Arnold

PLAINVIEW, TX (KCBD) - More than 30 years ago, a woman's body was found nude and headless, discarded on a dirt road northeast of Plainview.

Last Friday, a forensics team from the University of North Texas (UNT) and the Texas Rangers returned to her grave marked simply, "Jane Doe."

"I recognized that we had a young lady who was unidentified; who died a terrible death and somebody was probably looking for her and hopefully we can identify her," Texas Ranger Tony Arnold said.

This is one of several cold case murders the Texas Rangers are trying to solve.

Arnold said this case is riddled with inconsistencies. Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who admitted to killing hundreds of women, also admitted to killing the woman found in Plainview. As years went by, authorities questioned and disputed his ability to be present for all of the murders he claimed to have done.

"He confessed to a lot of murders that he did not commit, so [we] potentially have another suspect out there," Arnold said.

Several days after the woman's body was discovered, a skull was found near Scottsdale, Arizona. Forensic pathologist Ralph Erdmann concluded that the skull found in Arizona belonged to the body found in Plainview. But Erdmann was later convicted on counts of evidence tampering and perjury.

"Obviously, we want to identify her but because of Dr. Erdmann's involvement and Henry Lee Lucas' involvement, there [are] some credibility issues as to what occurred," Arnold said. "The information we have is that there was a skull mandible and skeletal remains in the grave site, so we were concerned to a degree as to whether the three items belonged to one another, and the analysis from the skull and remains would tell us if that was one person."

According to Arnold, the efforts to uncover this woman's identity is part of a nationwide initiative to identify missing people that began in 2005. The remains he and his team dug up from the Plainview grave site were transported to the UNT campus in Denton. The university's forensics department has the facilities to conduct DNA analysis and holds a DNA database.

"The way it plays out is that we encourage the families of those missing persons to submit DNA reference samples of the siblings, of their mother and father, to the University of North Texas," Arnold said. "It's a center of human identification. They continuously will search their database between the family reference samples and the unidentified profiles developed there to try to identify this individual."

Arnold said in the last three years, there have been 650,000 unidentified missing people in the nation, with about 60,000 in Texas.

He hopes that the answers he and his team await will lead to the closure of a decades-old case and bring closure to the woman's family.

"She was potentially a young female between the ages of 19 and 21," Arnold said. "I'm thinking that's somebody's daughter out there and they don't know where she went. Since 1982, they have a void in their life."

According to Arnold, the work done at UNT's forensics lab has yielded results. Most recently, their partnership with the university's forensics team allowed them to close a case from back in 2008.

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