DNA technology key in solving cold cases

Nov 06, 2012

For 37 years, Priscilla Ann Blevins was listed as a missing person after she disappeared from her Charlotte home July 7, 1975.

It’s been 27 years since a construction worker in Haywood County found her skeletal remains lying near the guardrail on Interstate 40.

Until last month, authorities were unable to identify that body. But thanks to new technology, Blevins' and hundreds of other cold cases are being solved with the help of DNA matching.

In 2009, the detective leading the investigation to find Blevins urged her sister, Winston-Salem resident Cathy Howe, to provide him with a DNA sample.

He then entered her information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a national database for missing persons and unidentified decedent records. The program is funded by the National Institute of Justice.

The DNA eventually produced a hit on Oct. 18, matching Blevins to the remains found near the Tennessee line.

When her remains were found in 1985, the State Bureau of Investigation took over the case, because technology at the time was limited.

But with the DNA program, police are given free collection kits to collect DNA from the families of missing people. The kits are processed for free at the Center for Human Identification and then uploaded into the FBI's Combined DNA Index System.

So far, NamUs claims to have helped solve 180 identifications.

Not only is DNA now a powerful tool to help police crack cases that have long been cold, but it offers an avenue of healing for families who have gone for years without knowing the whereabouts of their missing loved ones.

While the circumstances behind Blevins’ disappearance or how she came to rest in Haywood County may never be known, it’s safe to say the news that she was identified provides some closure for the family.

Now law enforcement are urging those who are missing a loved one to donate their DNA. It's as simple as paying a visit to the police agency leading the investigation.

According to NamUs, the best way to help the cause of solving cold cases involving missing people is to simply help raise awareness that the national database exists. Visit www.namus.gov for more information on the database.