Officials in Arizona have finally identified the remains of a woman as a 15-year-old high school student from Phoenix who went missing more than 30 years ago.
Melody Harrison was reported missing in 1992. Her decomposing remains were found in a remote wilderness area of Apache Junction at the northwest corner of Idaho and Baseline Roads.
For years, locals knew her only as “Apache Junction Jane Doe.” It finally took the work of a non-profit organization to uncover her identity.
The DNA Doe Project worked with the Apache Junction Police Department to create a family tree using two databases. The organization analyzed the DNA of possible relatives in order to identify the teenager.
Officials were also able to conduct a comparative analysis of family members which led to a second confirmation of the girl's identity.
Ms. Harrison's family reported her missing in June 2022. Initial investigative efforts were made to verify who the remains belonged to, but with no leads, the case went cold.
Complicating matters, multiple people reported seeing her in different locations throughout the area, leading her family to believe she had a new life and “didn't want to go home,” officials said in a news release.
As a result, relatives had her removed from the missing persons database in August 1996.
In 2008, Stephanie Bourgeois, a crime scene investigator and reserve police officer for the police department, took over the case. He rechecked the evidence using new technology that was successful in solving colds.
Ten years later, the research was sent to the Doe Project.
In 2019, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posted two billboards in Phoenix to help identify Ms. Harrison. However, no leads were presented.
Officials said dozens of volunteer genetic genealogists and Ms. Bourgeois were able to determine who the teenager's remains belonged to. Authorities made the announcement on Friday.
Officials say they are not done investigating Mrs. Harrison's case and are appealing to the public to come forward with any information about her disappearance, particularly knowledge about her friendships or relationships at the time of her death.
“There is peace that we have identified Melody and I share that with her family, but there are no details about the circumstances of her death,” Ms Bourgeois said. “We are still looking to find out how he might have died.”