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DNA advances resurrect missing, unidentified persons cases in Valley

Posted: 8:18 PM, Aug 08, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-09 06:04:51Z

Walk into the building which houses the Office of the Medical Examiner, you can't help but see their faces just to your right, in black in white.

There are sketches of a teenaged girl, a middle-aged man, all behind a wall of glass, and they're just a couple of the nearly 220 people whose remains were found in Maricopa County but never identified.

Christen Eggers is the gatekeeper for these cases. The medicolegal death investigator recently solved one that haunted her for nine years.  

"The family had reported him missing, but it never connected unfortunately," Eggers said. "We finally got an identification by his sister providing a DNA sample."

His name was L.V. Bailey. He died of a stroke in Casa Grande in 1982 while working outside. He was reported missing by family in Alabama, but the case wasn't solved until his sister came forward last year.  

Eggers has around 220 of these cold cases dating back more than 50 years. Many of the bodies were unrecognizable, decomposition often accelerated by the Arizona sun.

"A lot of these cases are missing persons cases," said Eggers. "There are families that want to know what happened to their loved one and we have not been able to bridge that gap between the missing and the unidentified."

With major advances in DNA and genetic testing just in the past two years, Eggers said it's crucial that anyone with a missing loved one submit or even resubmit a DNA sample to see if there's a match.

"That technology back then isn't what it is today," she said. 

Sgt. Vince Lewis from the Phoenix Police Department said he believes some cases remain unsolved because people are afraid to come forward due to their immigration status. He said they shouldn't be. Sgt. Lewis said their only concern is solving the case.

"Next to the family, no one wants to find your missing love one more than the detectives who are working that case," he said.

Since 2015, agencies in Arizona have banded together to hold ' Missing in Arizona Day '. This year it will be held on October 27 at ASU's west campus in Glendale.

Loved ones of missing people can find resources there to aid in their search. Family members of missing people can also provide a DNA sample to be put into a database to see if there is a match. 

According to Eggers, since the first Missing in Arizona Day, they have solved 23 missing persons cases with the effort.