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Advanced DNA testing identifies remains discovered in Nevada in 1978 as Cleveland woman

Using new DNA technology, investigators have determined that the remains belong to Florence Charleston. The investigation into her death is still ongoing.

LAS VEGAS — Police have announced that the remains of a woman found 45 years ago in a garment bag in Nevada have been identified as those of a Cleveland woman. 

Using new DNA technology, investigators have determined that the remains belong to Florence Charleston. Charleston had apparently moved to Portland, Oregon sometime in the early 1970’s and family members had lost contact with her by 1978. The investigation into Charleston’s death is still ongoing.

On October 26, 1978, the Perishing County (NV) Sheriff’s Office received information a garment bag containing human remains was found in a remote area, approximately 13 miles west of Imlay, Nevada.

The human remains were sent to a nearby medical center for an examination. An autopsy revealed the victim to be a Caucasian female approximately 40 years of age or greater. Due to the remains being heavily decayed, investigators say a cause of death could not be determined. Police were also unable to locate any identifying information for the female remains during the investigation.

The following year, detectives from the Nevada State Police - Investigation Division conducted their own probe to try to identify the remains. They sent out media releases requesting information from the public, followed up on numerous tips, and submitted dental records for comparison purposes. Detectives also worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain identifying information from the articles of clothing, while also performing a facial reconstruction, and obtaining a mitochondrial DNA profile from the remains.

The case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), However, no significant leads were established as a result of the investigation. 

Last year, the Nevada State Police - Investigation Division and NamUs reached out to Othram, a company specializing in forensic genealogy, to perform advanced DNA testing on the female remains and do a genealogy search. 

"We were able to extract DNA and build a really good DNA profile that we could use to basically sort out who her identity was," explained Othram Director of Case Management Michael Vogen.

Othram's in-house genealogy team then used the profile to develop investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement investigators. 

Vogen says he and his team are pleased that they were able to help bring some closure to a family. 

"At the end of the day, this is why we do it. There's a big impact and a ripple effect in these cases," he told 3News. "Of course, you have the victims themselves and you have the families and loved ones, the detectives that have worked on this case for decades. So to be able to do our part in bringing another investigative lead that can help resolve a case is very rewarding."

Anyone with information on the case of Florence Charleston is asked to contact the Nevada State Police - Investigation Division at (775) 684-7456.

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