OR crime lab helps solve nameless mysteries

OR crime lab helps solve nameless mysteries

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by Katherine Cook

Bio | Email | Follow: @KCookKGW

kgw.com

Posted on October 31, 2012 at 8:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 1 at 8:25 AM

 In murder investigations, detectives are usually searching for a killer. But in dozens of cases, the mystery also includes unidentified remains.

Clackamas County Sheriff's forensic artist, Joyce Nagy, helps identify those nameless victims.

"I need to do the best job I can to give (each victim) a voice," said Nagy. "It's a process, takes a lot of prayers and good intuition to make the drawings turn out the way they should look," she said.

To develop the drawings, Nagy uses information gleaned by Oregon State Police forensic scientist, Nici Vance.

"You'd be amazed by the things we can tell by the skeleton," said Vance. "When you have a truly unidentified individual, you're starting at a deficit," she said.

That's where Portland Police detectives found themselves last June, when park rangers discovered the remains of a young woman in Washington Park. Her face was decomposed beyond recognition, her fingerprints nowhere on file.

DNA ultimately led detectives to the victim's suspected killer, Mark Beebout.  He's also a suspect in an unrelated Southeast Portland murder from July.

But they still didn't know who the victim was, so investigators turned to Vance and Nagy for help.

Vance used special tools to measure the victim's skull, cranium and jaw. She then used a formula to calculate the measurements which helped determine the victim was likely a teenage girl, possibly mixed race, likely Hispanic-- all critical clues.

Nagy used that information in her drawing. After photographing the victim's skull, she used a light table to trace over the photo and develop a sketch. As they do with all unnamed victims, Nagy and Vance submitted the sketch and case information into a national online database that tries to link unidentified human remains with missing persons cases.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System can be accessed at www.NamUs.Gov. Anyone can search it, including parents of missing people and law enforcement agencies.

Ultimately, dental records pointed investigators in the Washington Park case to 15-year-old Mayra Sophia Cruz Rodriguez, a reported runaway from San Diego County, California.

A photograph of Cruz Rodriguez revealed an uncanny resemblance to Nagy's forensic sketch.

"We have a truly exceptional forensic artist on our hands," said Vance. Nagy, said she's just thankful for closure in that part of the case.

"To allow the family to close that chapter on that life... It just brings a tear to your heart," Nagy said.

Vance said investigators are now trying to identify the remains of 81 other homicide victims in Oregon, hoping to bring some sort of closure to their families.

To accomplish that, she hopes more people will post missing persons information on NamUs.gov, which could help investigators identify more victims.

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