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Spokane woman missing for nearly 40 years identified as victim in Montana cold case

May 10, 2021 Updated Mon., May 10, 2021 at 9:49 p.m.

Investigators in Montana have identified the remains of a Spokane woman missing for nearly 40 years.

Janet Lee Lucas has been identified through familial DNA, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.

On Sept. 9, 1985, a bear hunter found bones near Crystal Creek. Despite a lengthy investigation, the skeleton remained unidentified, labeled “Christy Crystal Creek” for 36 years.

“After decades of missing Janet, our family is brokenhearted to learn that she was tragically taken, unidentified and spent a large amount of years alone. However, she never spent one moment without being loved,” Lucas’ family wrote in a statement. “Janet had a contagious smile, warm personality and wore her heart on her sleeve.”

The Missoula sheriff’s office cold case unit partnered with Othram, a private lab that conducts advanced DNA analysis, earlier this year to do a forensic genetic genealogy investigation. The technique is similar to the process that allowed the Missoula Police Department to identify another cold case victim, Siobhan McGuinness, last year.

The project was funded in part by the Montana Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. Investigators used DNA profiles from commercial sites like GED Match and FamilyTree DNA to crowdsource genetic and ancestry data that tied back to Lucas. While this type of genetic genealogy investigation is somewhat new, it famously led to the identification and arrest of Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.

After weeks of genealogy research, investigators identified relatives in Lucas’ family tree. Investigators completed numerous interviews with the family and additional DNA testing to confirm the identification.

Lucas was born in October 1960. She grew up in California and Washington with her seven brothers and sisters. She disappeared at age 23, leaving behind her then-5-year-old son.

She was last seen in the summer of 1983 in Sandpoint, but no records show Lucas living or spending time in Montana.

With Lucas identified, detectives have shifted their focus to finding out what happened to her.

“We cannot rest on our success of having finally identified Janet,” said Missoula Detective Capt. Dave Conway, in a statement. “We must now seek justice for Janet.”

The sheriff’s office released a photo of Lucas taken shortly before her death in hopes someone may recognize her and come forward with more information.

“While after 38 years, our family finally has some answers,” the family wrote in a statement, “We also realize there are questions that we may never have the answers to.”

The family thanked the sheriff’s office, specifically Detective Marta Timmons, who spent much of her career working on the case. They also thanked volunteer consultant Dianna Parker.

Detectives are investigating a potential connection to the remains of Marci Bachman, known as “Debbie Deer Creek,” that were discovered near Lucas’ remains. Bachman is believed to have been killed by Missoula serial killer Wayne Nance.

Nance was killed while attacking a couple in 1986 and was never convicted of the murders he is believed to have committed.

“It truly was a team effort that required the assistance and cooperation of a number of agencies and people to bring some closure to the Lucas family,” said Sheriff T.J. McDermott in a statement. “I’d like to thank the Cold Case Unit, University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, Montana Regional Program for continually updating Janet’s profile, the Montana DOJ SAKI program, Montana DOJ Forensic Science Division, the FBI Forensic Genetic Genealogy program, Othram DNA laboratory and Janet’s family.”

For Lucas’ family, the identification provides some closure.

“Janet had been missed dearly, searched for, but most importantly never forgotten. Janet was loved by everyone. Not only was she a mother, she was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend and now a grandmother to four beautiful children,” the family wrote. “We are grateful to finally be able to bring her home to us, as well as bring Janet the peace and rest she so deserves.”

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