On October 26, 1978, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office received a report that human remains were found in Pershing County, Nevada approximately 13 miles west of Imlay near Scossa Road. Officers with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene and located the human remains inside of a garment bag buried in a shallow grave. Investigators collected several evidentiary items at the scene, including women's clothing inside of the garment bag.
The unidentified individual’s remains were transferred to Washoe Medical Center in nearby Reno, Nevada where an autopsy was performed. Investigators determined that the unknown individual was a Caucasian female who was approximately 40 to 50 years old at her time of death. Due to the condition of her remains, the woman's cause of death could not be determined. Identifying information for the decedent was not found during the course of the investigation.
In May of 1979, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office requested the investigative assistance of the Nevada Department of Public Safety Investigation Division (NDPSID) which led an extensive investigation in an attempt to identify the woman. The investigation included the submission of dental records for comparison purposes, working with the FBI to obtain identifying information from the articles of clothing, completing a facial reconstruction for the woman, and obtaining a mitochondrial DNA profile for the woman. The NPSID entered the case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case #UP17848. Investigators followed up on many tips and compared numerous missing persons reports without establishing a significant lead. Despite investigators' extensive efforts, the identity of the woman remained a mystery.
In March 2022, investigators with the NDPSID, along with NamUs, enlisted the assistance of Othram in hopes of identifying the unknown woman. Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram’s laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas and Othram’s scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified woman. Othram's in-house genealogy team used the profile to develop investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement investigators.
Investigators were able to determine that the unidentified woman is Florence Charleston of Cleveland, Ohio. A subsequent investigation revealed that Charleston moved to Portland, Oregon sometime in the early 1970’s and family members lost contact with her around 1978. The investigation into Charleston’s death is ongoing. Anyone with information about Charleston’s death is asked to contact the Nevada Department of Public Safety Investigation Division at 775-684-7456 and reference agency case number C-79-095.
Funding for the advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy used in this case was provided by NamUs, a national clearinghouse that assists the criminal justice community with the investigation and resolution of missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons cases across the United States and its territories. NamUs is funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and is managed through a contract with Research Triangle Institute International. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, Nevada Department of Public Safety Investigation Division, and Othram are grateful to RTI, NamUs, and the NIJ for their support.