PINEVILLE, Mo. — A couple happened upon her decomposed remains 30 years ago in the carport of a vacant farmhouse along Oscar Talley Road in McDonald County.
Hog-tied, with mysterious bindings about her legs, she appeared to have been in her 20s or early 30s. The pathologist believed she may have died as much as a month or two before her remains were found on Dec. 2, 1990.
Investigators turned up a witness who recalled hearing a woman scream in that vicinity on Halloween night.
An autopsy determined she had been raped and strangled.
Her dental work was charted, but all efforts to identify her and find out how she was killed came to naught, and the case went cold.
She gained the nickname “Grace Doe” when a cold case detective recruited a facial reconstruction expert in 2009 to develop a photographic likeness of her through magnetic resonance imaging of her skull, and the detective was told when she went public with the pictures that it would be “only by the grace of God” that the victim would ever be identified.
The pictures and publicity generated a number of leads over the years since then, none of which led to any matches of dental records or DNA, until the McDonald County Sheriff’s Department announced Wednesday that Grace Doe at last has been identified through advanced DNA testing conducted by Othram Inc., a state-of-the-art DNA laboratory in Houston.
The remains turned out to be those of Shawna Garber, a 22-year-old woman who had been in foster care in Garnett, Kansas, as a child and was last believed to have been returned to the custody of the state.
Othram, which contacted the sheriff’s office in September of last year about helping in the case, employs the trademark Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing process to build DNA profiles capable of tracking down relatives of unidentified donors of remains.
The company contacted the sheriff’s office in January of this year to report that it had identified some candidate relatives of the woman through its genealogy research.
Lt. (and former Sheriff) Michael Hall contacted Danielle Pixler, of Topeka, Kansas, one of the candidate relatives, and learned that she had a half sister, Shawna Garber, whom she had not seen since they were separated as children.
DNA testing recently matched Pixler and Garber.
Hall said Pixler was still feeling “shocked, relieved and more than a little overwhelmed” when he spoke to her by phone Tuesday night.
“She had been searching for her sister for 28 years,” Hall said.
The sheriff said he shares in Pixler’s amazement but also realizes that the identification of the remains does not close the case. It instead provides direction for a good deal more investigative work for the sheriff’s office.
“Now it’s: ‘Let’s figure out her life and figure out where she came from and where she was going,’” Hall said.
Ultimately, investigators need to figure out who killed her, Hall said.