Woman found dead in canvas sack 52 years ago has been identified in Arizona, cops say

  • In US
  • 2023-01-25 18:47:22Z
  • By Sacramento Bee

Fifty-two years ago, a "white cotton, loosely-woven sack, with the words 'Deer-Pak Ames Harris Neville Co.' printed in green" was found lying in the Arizona desert near a dirt road about 2 miles east of Highway 93.

The bag, tied with a "white cotton rope," concealed a woman's body, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office said in a Tuesday, Jan. 24, Facebook post.

The woman was estimated to be between 35 to 40 years old and was wearing a "multi-colored long sleeve blouse, a black long sleeve cardigan sweater, and burnt orange stretch pants," the sheriff's office said. She was also wearing black ankle-high leather boots and bobby socks.

Despite decades of investigation, her identity remained a mystery, deputies said.

It wasn't until the sheriff's office asked the community to help fund DNA testing that it finally identified the body as that of Colleen Audrey Rice, who was born on March 17, 1931, in Portsmouth, Ohio, the sheriff's office said.

Decades of investigation

In the decades since finding the woman's body, investigators have looked into many leads trying to identify her, Othram, the company that assisted the sheriff's office, said in a news release.

Her fingerprints were sent to the FBI, her dental work was sent to "prominent dental magazines," and missing persons reports from Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah were looked into, the company said.

Despite all these efforts, none led to an ID, Othram said.

Sheriff's office turns to the public

In October 2021, the sheriff's office said it asked the public to help identify the woman from the 1971 homicide case.

A woman found dead inside a canvas sack in an Arizona desert 52 years ago has been identified, authorities said.
A woman found dead inside a canvas sack in an Arizona desert 52 years ago has been identified, authorities said.  

An artist from the Museum of Northern Arizona made a sketch of what the woman may have looked like at the time of her death, the sheriff's office said. Deputies shared the photo in hopes of finding the woman's identity.

In 2022, the sheriff's office said it once again turned to the public for help.

After partnering with Othram, the sheriff's office said it contributed $1,000 to test the woman's DNA. It was, however, still short $6,500 and asked people for contributions.

"The 'Dear Gladys' DNA Solves page was advertised and the community opened its heart, funding the case in only 5 days," the sheriff's office said.

Testing started in late 2022, deputies said.

Genetic genealogy leads to ID

Using forensic genetic genealogy, officials identified the body as Rice's on Jan. 23, the sheriff's office said.

Genetic genealogy uses DNA testing coupled with "traditional genealogical methods" to create "family history profiles," according to the Library of Congress. With genealogical DNA testing, researchers can determine if and how people are biologically related.

After hours of researching Rice's family tree and contacting distant family members, officials said DNA testing confirmed the body belonged to her.

Rice, the daughter of James C. Rice and Flossie Truitt, attended Portsmouth High School, deputies said.

"She married William Davis in 1946 in Ohio," the sheriff's office said. "She was estranged from her family, so little is known of her life or how she came to be in Arizona."

The sheriff's office said it is also unsure if she had children.

"The investigation is ongoing into the suspect and/or suspects responsible for her death," deputies said.

Anyone with information about Rice or her death is asked to call the sheriff's office at 928-753-0753 ext. 4408.

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