Flagler County using DNA, genealogy in effort to ID remains of woman found 30 years ago

A young woman whose remains were first discovered in the woods in Flagler County just over 30 years ago is still unidentified, and the Sheriff’s Office is using new technology to try to bring closure to her family.

The woman’s skeletal remains were first found Jan. 10, 1993, when two young boys chased a basketball into the woods at the end of their cul-de-sac on Sea Ship Place.

One of those boys was the son of Clarence Murphy, who lives on Sea Ship Place. Murphy said his son was 12 then and is 42 now. Murphy said he remembers that day and his son’s reaction.

“He come out of there like pretty fast, so he had a lot of fear in him. He was real scared,” he said.

At the time, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office investigated the discovery with help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and found partial skeletal remains under some brush. They also collected other items of evidence from the scene and determined the woman had been murdered.

Initially, forensic anthropologists from the University of Florida and the Medical Examiner’s Office said the woman had been dead for approximately two to three years and was 25 to 35 years old (meaning she would have been born between 1955-1965).

Investigators said she was approximately 64 inches in height (5 feet, 3 inches) and has an old right nasal fracture.

At the time, investigators distributed a facial approximation through the news media and since then several missing persons cases have been compared to the woman, but no matches were ever made.

Flagler County Cold Case facial approximation (Provided by Flagler County Sheriff's Office)

In 2021, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly created a Cold Case Unit in 2021 and that same year, DNA laboratory Othram developed a profile for the woman, discovering that she was African American, possibly mixed with Caucasian.

“It helps the case because, maybe back then, we were looking at different missing person’s cases for Caucasian, Native American females, and that wasn’t actually correct,” said FCSO Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia.

Through investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) research, Othram was able to establish the woman was a descendant of George Washington Coleman and Clarissa Minnick from the Edgefield/Aiken, South Carolina area.

Scalia took over the case in 2022 and worked with Othram to research more genealogy in hopes of identifying the woman.

“It’s, like, if that was my loved one, I’d want to know what happened to them,” Scalia told News4JAX. “The unidentified people, they deserve to have a name and a face, but the families the friends the victims, they deserve justice, and they deserve to have answers of what happened to them.”

At least 30 relatives have been contacted from the extensive family tree, but so far, her identity remains unknown.

One of these relatives, Donya Williams, is a genealogist with an organization called Genealogy Adventures and has shared her knowledge of African American genealogy and specific expertise of the region of Edgefield, South Carolina, with Scalia in hopes of identifying the woman.

Scalia has also been working with the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to help identify the woman.

On Jan. 10, 2023, on the 30th anniversary of her discovery, Scalia hand-delivered the woman’s skull to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) Forensic Imaging Unit. After a careful review of the skull and the ancestry information provided to them, PBSO forensic artists were able to reconstruct the woman’s skull and create a new facial approximation.

It should be noted that facial reconstructions aim to achieve a likeness of the unidentified individual and should not be viewed as a portrait of the individual.

“We hope that someone may be able to identify this woman so we can bring closure to her family who has been waiting for over 30 years to know what happened to her,” Staly said. “We know someone out there knows something, so call us. We also thank the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for assisting us, especially their Forensic Imaging Unit, the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and our other community partners.”

If anyone has any information on the identity of the woman or information about her death, please contact the FCSO Cold Case Unit, Detective Scalia (sscalia@flaglersheriff.com), email TIPS@flaglersheriff.com, or call FCSO at 386-313-4911 or call CrimeStoppers of NE Florida at 888-277- TIPS. CrimeStoppers of NE Florida offers a reward of up to $5,000.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.

Khalil Maycock joined the News4JAX team in November 2022 after reporting in Des Moines, IA.