Longview (KPTV) — Nearly 23 years after her death, investigators exhumed the body of a woman buried in Cowlitz County in an attempt to finally find out who she was.
The woman’s remains were dug up from an unmarked grave at the Longview Memorial Park and Cemetery Jan. 8.
Investigators said she was the last unidentified person buried in Cowlitz County.
The woman was killed in May 1991. She was a passenger in a semi driving on Interstate 5 near Kalama. Police said the driver, Lester Harbol, slammed into the back of a second semi that was stopped for roadway construction.
The truck burst into flames. Harbol and the unidentified woman were killed. The fire destroyed any identification she may have been carrying.
During the investigation, it was learned that the woman was not an authorized passenger. However, investigators said the circumstances of her death are not considered criminal.
Harbol had driven from Missouri and just dropped a load off in Tacoma. Police told Seattle station KCPQ that he had a girlfriend back in Missouri.
“She was an unauthorized passenger,” Washington State Patrol Detective Greg Wilcoxson said of the unidentified woman. “But yet I don’t know whether or not it was a relationship or if he was just giving her a ride.”
Over the 23 years that followed the deadly crash, WSP detectives have worked on attempting to identify her. So far, those efforts have not produced a definitive answer.
Now, her remains have been sent to King County for facial reconstruction by a forensic anthropologist. From there, they will go to the University of Northern Texas for DNA extraction and entry into DNA databases.
The hope is that a match or a relative will be located through DNA records.
The woman’s remains will then return to the Cowlitz County Coroner’s Office, where they will be kept in anticipation of being reunited with family.
“Once the facial reconstruction is complete, we hope to get that picture and information out to as many people as we can,” said Detective Sgt. Stacy Moate.
The exhumation was carried out with the support of Crime Stoppers, Washington’s Most Wanted, the Cowlitz County Coroner’s Office, Longview Memorial Park and Cemetery and the Washington State Patrol Criminal Investigation Division.
Police believe the woman may have been Native American. Because of that, members of the Puyallup Tribe were on hand to follow their customs prior to the exhumation.
“This is somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter who has been unidentified now for over 22 years as a result of a motor vehicle collision and the Washington State Patrol would like to identify who this person is so we can notify the family,” Wilcoxson said.