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News >  Crime/Public Safety

After more than 40 years, random DNA test reveals identity of mystery woman

By Donovan Brink (Roseburg, Ore.) News-Review

On April 18, 1980, some fishermen were making their way to a favorite fishing hole along the North Canadian River outside of Jones, Oklahoma.

Before casting a line, they would stumble onto what would become one of the most infamous cold case murder mysteries in American history.

The fishermen discovered a young woman who appeared to have been murdered. Her body was coated in a substance called “quicklime,” which under normal conditions should have increased the rate of decomposition. Instead, with the help of the water from the North Canadian River, the lime was a preservative.

Authorities were stumped. The Oklahoma County medical examiner reported the woman had been shot three times with a suspected .45-caliber pistol. Neither the suspect nor the murder weapon have been identified.

The mystery woman would go down in the annals of cold case crime lore as “The Lime Lady.”

Fast forward nearly 40 years, and a random DNA test would finally reveal her true identity.

‘Gone without a trace’

At the time of her death, Tamara “Tammy” Lee Tigard was not believed to have any living relatives. The 21-year-old had lost both of her parents, and forensic technology in the early 1980s was nowhere near what it is today. Because Tigard’s body was so well preserved from the lime, investigators were successful in acquiring a viable DNA sample.

Tigard’s disappearance from her Las Vegas home was also puzzling. All authorities could confirm was that Tigard had left her home for a walk and reportedly wasn’t seen again. An estimated 10 days later, the fishermen spotted her body along the bank of the North Canadian River northeast of Oklahoma City. Her arms were stretched above her head, giving investigators the indication she had been dragged to her final resting place.

Then-Captain Bob Green of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office told the Associated Press in 2020 that he “always just wanted to bring dignity to the victim in this case. All of these years she has been gone without a trace, with none of her family or acquaintances knowing what happened to her.”

At that time, investigators believed Tigard had no living family members. Nor did she have an identity.

For nearly 40 years, she lay in an unmarked grave in an Edmond, Oklahoma, cemetery, until a connection was finally made.

‘The ties that bind’

In 2019, Kylie Tigard was attempting to build a family genealogy chart for her niece, Cierra. Kylie, her brother Conan and Cierra were believed to be the last three of their Tigard family tree, but Kylie wanted her niece to know more of their family’s history.

Kylie Tigard submitted her DNA test to the online registry 23&Me. It would not be long before she received a phone call that would change her world. Little did she realize that a woman missing for 40 years, whose DNA also had been logged in the DNA Doe Project, had similar markers.

The woman who had been missing for 40 years was Kylie Tigard’s cousin.

“I’m not sure if it was her first or me first, but about a month later my DNA was flagged,” Kylie Tigard said.

Open and shut? Not even close.

“We knew she had gone missing, but we were told she was in witness protection,” Kylie Tigard said. “At that point, it becomes ‘not missing.’

“When I got the call from Oklahoma, it was shocking.”

Kylie Tigard said the call from Oklahoma authorities was, in a sense, both heartbreaking and gratifying.

“She had been unidentified for so long, and just laying (in a grave) with no name,” Kylie Tigard said. “I’m so grateful to the people in Oklahoma for stepping in and taking her case, and for the DNA Doe Project for not giving up.

“It’s hard when people say, ‘Oh, you’re the Lime Lady’s cousin,’ and that’s her name,” Kylie Tigard said. “She’ll be known as that forever, but a lot of people worked very hard to give her back her real name.”

Her name is Army Specialist Tamara Lee Tigard. She would have been 63 years old this month.

Let’s throw a party

The day Tamara Tigard’s body was found, April 18, 1980, would have been her 21st birthday. Monday, on her 63rd birthday, she will be laid to rest next to her mother and father, who are both buried at Valley View Cemetery in Sutherlin. She will finally be reunited with them, with her newly-discovered family there to celebrate her return.

All military personnel, both active and retired, are invited to celebrate her life at Valley View Cemetery to “throw a party,” for Tamara, Kylie Tigard said.

The Patriot Guard Riders have accepted an invitation to take part in a processional for Tamara Tigard. The service is scheduled for 11 a.m.

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