PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — She was wrapped in a tarp, bound with rope and likely dumped in a very rural location of Polk County. Her body was found September 1, 1996, but it may have been there for quite a while, maybe 2 years. She has never been identified.
“Our biggest question for us is, who is she? What’s her first and last name?” said Dr. Nici Vance, a forensic anthropologist with the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner Division. “When we determine that, then we can figure out who she was last seen with, who her family members are, where she last resided, in Oregon or maybe somewhere else, maybe another state.”
The woman’s body was discovered by hunters on the south side of a truck turnout off a logging road known as Panther Creek Road in rural Polk County. She was found about 75 feet from the turnoff, down an embankment.
As with other unidentified persons, this woman has some identifiable characteristics to help forensic investigators.
She was between the ages of 45 and 65. She was 5-foot-3, had dark brown hair that was turning grey, and she had an upper plate of dentures — though she had no dentures in her mouth when she was found.
“But we know the way her pallet is shaped that it potentially has had a denture in it,” Vance told KOIN 6 News. “She also has a little bit of a wider nose. We believe she is Caucausian,” though they are not 100% sure.
The most identifiable feature, however, is the scar on her forehead.
“She has this very, very distinct cranial scar in the bone of her frontal bone, so basically her forehead,” Vance said. “It’s a crescent shape. It’s very large and it’s healed. So this woman survived and recovered from either a head injury, some sort of brain surgery, some sort of neurological disorder that allowed a surgeon to fix it, and she lived life after that.”
For 21 years, investigators have done what they can to identify the woman now known as NAMUS Case 9457.
Oregon has more than 160 unidentified deceased people in the database.
“We have a full DNA profile that we got from her bones, so that is uploaded into the national database. It’s being searched weekly against all of our family reference standards throughout the nation, all of our missing person standards throughout the nation, but it hasn’t matched anything yet,” Vance said.
Beyond trying to “connect the dots,” Vance said these cases mean a lot, for many reasons.
“They are people I want to give back to their loved ones,” she said.
But also, there is a killer who may still be on the loose.
“It looked very much as if she was being dumped somewhere and … whoever put her there didn’t want her to be found,” Vance told KOIN 6 News. “Whoever did this could absolutely still be out there. We have no information on this case and determining the identity of this female individual is the first step in finding that investigative lead that may solve this case.”
“We keep all of our unidentified remains secured in our facility until we identify them,” Vance said. “So she is part of my tribe.”
If you have information about a Caucasian middle-aged female with graying brown hair, a possible brain injury or neurological condition, and a set of upper dentures that went missing prior to 1994-1995, please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on their tip line at 503.623.1878.