The case of a young girl who went missing 44 years ago is one step closer to being solved after her skeletal remains were positively identified, a result that investigators attribute to advances made in DNA.
The Center for Human Identification announced this week that the remains of a girl estimated to be between the age of 10 and 15 years old found in rural Tennessee in 1985, who has for decades only known as “Baby Girl”, was positively identified as Tracy Sue Walker.
Tracy, who was born in 1963, went missing in 1978 from her home in Lafayette, Indiana. The remains of the young girl, who was about 15 when she was reported missing, were recovered by authorities in 1985 in the Big Wheel Gap area of northern Tennessee. Her final resting place was more than 380 miles away from her home.
While the case lay dormant for many decades, authorities got a well-earned break last year when a sample from the skeletal remains were sent to a private laboratory that analyses human DNA.
Their efforts to identify Tracy using advances in DNA technology, however, can be traced back to 2007, when a sample of her remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI).
Tracy Sue Walker, born in 1963, went missing when she was about 15 years old and her remains, which were found in 1985, have only been positively matched this year because of advances in DNA technology
(Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)
From there, a DNA profile of the not-so-well-preserved remains was created. The hope was that a match could be made once entered into the Combined DNA Index System and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
In 2013, an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations reopened the case into the missing and unidentified teen but it would be several years before they got their next break in the case.
Last year, the TBI investigator sent the remains to Othram, a private laboratory that specialises in forensic genealogy to resolve unsolved murders, disappearances, and identification of unidentified decedents or murder victims. The lab is also credited with helping solve cold case murders as far back as the 1980s.
As the remains had degraded so much over the years, previous attempts at creating a sound DNA profile from them had proved unfruitful. Though, this time around, Othram scientists were able to both retrieve a suitable extract using advanced genome filtering and created a genealogical profile for the otherwise unknown child called “Baby Girl”.
Othram then connected that profile with a possible relative who was living in Indiana. With the assistance of TBI agents on the ground, they were able to confirm that a family member of that relative had indeed had a child go missing in 1978.
Further testing from that Indiana family later confirmed that they were related to the unidentified remains, which were then reported in August to be that of Tracy Sue Walker.
TBI agents are still working the young girl’s case and asking anyone with information regarding the child’s disappearance to come forward with tips by calling 1-800-TBI-FIND.
The Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department, the Indiana agency investigating the missing persons case, did not immediately respond to The Independent for a request for more information.