A 1985 unsolved homicide case in Montana gets a big break in identifying the victim, thanks to DNA samples
(CNN) -- For over three decades, Montana police have been trying to identify the skeletal remains of a woman that were found by a bear hunter in Missoula County. Now, police say, they have identified them as belonging to Janet Lee Lucas, a missing mother from Washington.
Her remains were found in 1985 and named "Christy Crystal Creek" by the Missoula County Sheriff's Office (MCSO), due to the location of where they were found.
Over the years the unsolved case has caught the attention of web sleuths and featured on a true crime podcast, partly because of the theory she was a victim of suspected serial killer Wayne Nance.
"We cannot rest on our success of having finally identified Janet. We must now seek justice for Janet," said MSCO Detective Captain Dave Conway in a news release on Monday. "Our focus has changed from 'who is Christy Crystal Creek?' to 'what happened to Janet Lucas? This is now a cold case homicide investigation, and we need your help."
Earlier this year, after receiving state funding and partnering with a lab, MSCO said they were able to conduct a forensic genetic genealogy investigation on the remains which identified DNA relatives and family trees of Lucas' family in Spokane. Additional DNA testing was conducted on relatives, and MCSO was able to conclusively identify "Christy Crystal Creek" as 23-year-old Lucas.
Lucas' family said they have been searching for the Spokane woman, who was last seen in Idaho the summer of 1983. Her family released a statement on Monday saying she had a contagious smile, warm personality and a she wore her heart on her sleeve.
"After decades of missing Janet, our family is broken hearted to learn that she was tragically taken, unidentified and spent a large amount of years alone," reads the statement. "However, she never spent one moment without being loved. Janet had been missed dearly, searched for but most importantly never forgotten."
At the time she went missing, her son was five years old, according to MSCO, and he has spent much his adult life searching for her.
Remains were found near Crystal Creek, officials said
On September 9, 1985, a bear hunter came across the skeletonized remains in a rural area near Crystal Creek, according to MSCO.
No clothing or personal affects were found in the area, according to FBI, and it is believed she died a year earlier. The initial investigation determined she died from two gunshots to the head, according to police.
"After a thorough investigation, those remains could not be identified and became known as Christy Crystal Creek," reads the news release.
"Despite decades of work with forensic anthropologists and a forensic odontologist, and hours of research scouring missing persons databases here and in Canada, her identity remained a mystery."
Officials looking for any possible links to 'Missoula Mauler'
CSO Detective Marta Timmons told CNN affiliate KTMF last year that "she's assumed that she could be a victim of Wayne Nance, because she's found in an area where Wayne Nance used to hang out."
Nance, known as "Missoula Mauler," was a suspected serial killer in Missoula during the 1970s and 1980s, according to the Billings Gazette.
Lucas' remains were found near another homicide victim "Debbie Deer Creek," the name given to remains of a then-unidentified woman. "'Debbie Deer Creek,' [later] identified as Marcella 'Marci' Bachmann, was a known Nance victim," a spokesperson with MSCO told CNN. "Bachmann was seen with Nance in September 1984 and was believed to have been killed around that time."
"It was one of his favorite places to take people. There's an old car there that he liked to sit in," Timmons said. "And it was just one of his favorite places to take people."
Nance is believed to have killed six victims in Missoula and Ravalli counties, according to the Gazette. The true number of his victims will never be known, according to police reports.
In 1986, Nance was killed when he attacked a young couple inside of their home.
MSCO said they are reviewing evidence and reports for any possible links between Wayne Nance and Lucas.
The investigation continues
Police are now trying to piece together Lucas' last years of her life and how she came to be in Montana. They said that there are no records showing her living or spending time in the state.
Police released a photo of Lucas from 1979 in hopes that someone may have known or seen her in Missoula in the summer of 1983 or into 1984.
"While after 38 years, our family finally has some answers. We also realize there are questions that we may never have the answers to," reads Lucas' family statement. "We are grateful to finally be able to bring her home to us, as well as bring Janet the peace and rest she so deserves."
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