LANAGAN, Mo. (KSNT) – A decades-long homicide investigation is one step closer to being solved thanks to advanced technology in DNA evidence.
Shawna Beth Garber has now been identified as the victim of a gruesome murder that happened on Dec. 2, 1990, when she was 22 years old.
Her autopsy revealed she was raped and restrained with different types of bindings two months before she was found.
“The legs were bound at the ankles and stuff,” McDonald County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Hall said.
It’s an image that’s played in the McDonald County Sheriff’s Office’s minds for 31 years as the case has stayed cold.
The remains of the woman found back in 1990 were severely decomposed and dumped by an abandoned house. Investigators couldn’t identify her and named her “Grace Doe.”
“Told her it’d be by the grace of God that she finds out this was,” Lt. Hall said.
The homicide happened in Lanagan, Missouri, which is in the southwestern part of the state and nearly three hours from Garnett, Kansas where she was last known to have lived in foster care.
A gruesome death with no one to notify and no one to hold responsible is one step closer to being solved.
“They called me earlier this week, said ‘Hey it’s a match for a half-sibling,'” Lt. Hall said.
Texas company Othram specializes in forensics and made the match.
Director of Case Management for Othram Michael Vogen said they help law enforcement agencies across the country with cases like “Grace.”
“Who a person is, or who a perpetrator of a crime is or whatever id it is we’re looking for,” Vogen said.
Detectives worked with a facial reconstruction expert to create an image of what “Grace” might’ve looked like, but after countless tips, they were no closer to finding her true identity.
That is until the company reached out to Lt. Hall last September and he agreed to send ‘Grace Doe’s’ skeletal remains to their lab.
For months, scientists worked to build a DNA profile from the remains and once they did, they uploaded the profile to a number of public databases they have access to.
“And we go out there and do records research and genealogy and we try to find the closest person or closest kin to that DNA sample that we started from,” Vogen said.
Othram used their platform DNASolves.com to get money to pay for the work done on ‘Grace Doe.’
The Southeast Missouri State University Anthropology Department requested to study the skeletal remains so students could conduct anthropological analysis, and through that were able to use money from the department to pay for the rest.
Just a couple of weeks ago they finally had a break when that research led to three potential family matches.
Lt. Hall then started making calls to narrow those matches down to one woman in Topeka.
“She made the revelation that ‘I’ve got a missing half-sister that we don’t know what happened to her,'” Lt. Hall said.
On the other line was Danielle Pixler.
She lives in Topeka and has been searching for her half-sister for 28 years.
She then agreed to a DNA swab, which was done by the Topeka Police Department, to see if hers matched the DNA profile Othram had put together for ‘Grace Doe.’
When scientists compared the profiles, Vogen said it was a half-sibling match.
‘Grace Doe’ was now Shawna Beth Garber.
A 22-year-old woman tragically killed with so many unanswered questions still surrounding her death.
“Sad, excited…you know, she didn’t know what happened to her sister, but she knows where her sister’s at now and something did happen,” Lt. Hall recalled telling Pixel the news over the phone.
Since Shawna’s identity was released Wednesday, Lt. Hall said there have been no leads yet as to who did this to her, leaving investigators to piece together the years leading up to her death in 1990 and exactly how she ended up in McDonald County.
Investigators working the case are looking to talk to people around Iola, Garnet, Topeka and anywhere else where someone might have known Shawna Beth Garber.
If you have any information that may help with the investigation, you can call the McDonald County Sheriff’s Office at (417) 223-4319 and ask for Lt. Michael Hall.