Another case where DNA was used to identify a person who had been missing for a very long time. This lady went missing 37 years ago. DNA confirms body found by highway is woman missing since 1975DNA confirmation was recent
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: Friday, Nov. 02, 2012
Priscilla Blevins was a studious, pretty woman who’d studied Spanish at Wake Forest University, taught English in Bogota, Colombia, and wanted to be a translator for the United Nations. She disappeared without a trace shortly after Independence Day in 1975.
Now, police say they have solved the 37-year-old missing persons case thanks to a persistent family and a swab of DNA collected at a Winston-Salem bookstore.
It’s the oldest missing persons case the unit has solved, said Det. Lee Tuttle, the lead investigator who added that police still don’t know how Blevins died.
Blevins was last seen alive by her roommate at their apartment on Tyvola Road near South Boulevard. Her younger sister, Cathy Blevins Howe, who lived in Arizona at the time, still vividly remembers the long-distance phone call from her worried parents saying her older sister couldn’t be found.
As the years ticked by, the Blevins family stayed in constant contact with Charlotte police, urging them to find their daughter. But investigators had exhausted all leads.
They never knew that a woman’s body was discovered 10 years later in Haywood County, near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, roughly 150 miles from Blevins’ apartment. Unidentified, it was shipped to the chief medical examiner’s office in Chapel Hill in 1985. No one knew it was Blevins.
As her parents aged, Howe continued the search for her older sister.
“As I got older and had a daughter of my own, my curiosity about this continued and it just never let up,” she said. “I just decided that I wanted to see what I could find out.”
She called CMPD’s missing persons team in 2000. Tuttle, a 20-year-veteran of the department, who is also from Winston-Salem, called her back. Over time, he found an article about Blevins’ disappearance written in 1978. He also contacted a private detective who’d been hired by the family to find Blevins.
But the key to cracking the case would be newer investigative methods.
For the past five years, the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office has collected DNA from unidentified bodies and entered them into the FBI’s national DNA database, in Quantico, Va., Tuttle said.
During that time, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have also been collecting DNA from family members, which can help identify human remains.
Tuttle met Howe at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Winston-Salem. They had coffee, chatted about the case, then he had Howe run a cotton swab against the inside of her cheek. The DNA from that drop of saliva was sent to the FBI’s lab and entered into the national database.
Matching the DNA is not a quick process, especially in a 30-year-old missing persons case. Other cases, especially those awaiting prosecution, are often prioritized.
Two weeks ago – three years after putting Howe’s DNA in the database – Tuttle’s phone rang “out of the blue,” he said. Howe’s DNA matched DNA from another sample in the system.
The body at the medical examiner’s office was Priscilla Blevins.
Howe was equally surprised by his knock on the door the next day.
Now she’s planning a homecoming of sorts for her sister – a memorial ceremony at Wake Forest University, and a burial in the family plot.
“I have friends who scarcely know that I had a sister,” Howe said. “Now I get to scream it from the rooftops in a way that I couldn’t comfortably do before.”
Tuttle said the department will close one of its oldest missing persons cases. Authorities in Haywood will try to determine how Blevins died.
He hopes Blevins’ story encourages families of missing people to not give up hope.
Staff writer Maria David and The Winston-Salem Journal contributed. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/11/02/3637127/police-solve-charlotte-1975-missing.html
Priscilla Ann Blevins is pictured in this family photo from her high school graduation. Winston-Salem Journal -- Courtesy the family