In 1978, a garment bag containing a woman’s heavily decayed remains was discovered in a remote area of northern Nevada.
The case soon went cold — and the victim remained nameless for 45 years.
But on Wednesday, Nevada State Police announced that advancements in DNA testing have finally led to an identification. She was Florence Charleston, a Cleveland, Ohio, woman who had moved to Portland, Oregon, shortly before her death.
How Charleston wound up dead and buried in a shallow grave 535 miles away from her new home is still a mystery. Police said Wednesday in a news release announcing the DNA match that the investigation into her death is ongoing.
Charleston relocated to the Pacific Northwest sometime in the early 1970s, police said. By then, she had lost contact with her relatives, including a niece who would play a major role many decades later in the police investigation.
Charleston’s remains were found inside the garment bag in October 1978. Inside the bag, officers with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office — the initial lead investigating agency — also found some articles of women’s clothing.
An autopsy revealed the decomposing remains belonged to a woman in her 40s but failed to determine a cause of death, police said.
The case was later entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, along with a rendering of what detectives thought the woman looked like at the time of her death.
According to that entry, the woman was thought to be 5-foot-5 with red or auburn hair. Investigators also thought she may have been left-handed. The clothing items found with her remains included a dark-green sweater with a white safety pin attached to the front, dark-green trousers and a long-sleeved pink sweater.
In spring of 1979, Nevada State Police detectives were called in to help with the probe. They tried digital facial reconstruction. They compared dental records with other missing persons and unsolved cases. They looked for clues in the articles of clothing dumped with the remains.
But their efforts were unsuccessful.
Then last March, police said, they teamed up with Othram Inc., a private laboratory specializing in forensic genealogy analysis that has helped close countless other cold cases nationwide.
In a separate news release, Othram said Wednesday they used DNA taken from the remains “to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified woman,” leading investigators to Charleston’s niece.
Using a DNA sample provided by the niece, police said, the lab was able to link the 45-year-old remains to Charleston.