AIKEN -- Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend is 95 percent certain she has identified one of the women's bodies found in the Shaws Creek area but is waiting for DNA results before releasing her name.
The woman was found May 22, 1991, at least two years after she died. Like the two other women found in the area, she was black, and she was nude. Officials say she could've been shot, stabbed or both.
Investigators now believe the body belonged to the mother of a family in Aiken County, Mrs. Townsend said. A family member saw pictures of the body while in the courthouse and brought photos of her mother to the coroner's office, she said.
Investigators superimposed those photos onto photos of the skull of the body to see where they line up. The results indicated a match, and this method is shown to be 95 percent effective. But since the case is probably a homicide, Mrs. Townsend wanted to test the DNA, she said.
For this procedure, DNA is usually extracted from leg bone marrow and the pulp cavity of teeth where the nerves are. Testing DNA from bones usually involves extracting it from cell parts called mitochondria, which contain DNA that can trace maternal bloodlines, said Dr. Ted Rathbun, a forensic anthropologist who often helps identify bodies in Aiken County.
Scientists prefer to have 40 grams of bone from which to extract DNA, but current replication techniques allow them to do it with as little as 4 grams, Dr. Rathbun said. It also keeps well.
Scientists have extracted the same type of DNA from Neanderthals, Dr. Rathbun said.
But this process takes time. Test results aren't expected for another 10 to 12 weeks, Mrs. Townsend said.
And after six months of searching, the coroner's office is no closer to identifying a man who killed himself in an Aiken hotel room in October.
Investigators refer to him as Jeffrey Daniel, although they are certain that's not his real name. But it's the name he gave when he was brought to Aiken Regional Medical Centers after a previous suicide attempt.
He had slit his wrists and built a cellophane tent around himself in an attempt to suffocate himself. He was released from the hospital and returned to Aiken. Two weeks later, between Oct. 10 and 13, his attempts succeeded.
Deputy Coroner Stacey Coleman checks the NCIC computer regularly but says he still has no idea who this man is.
"We're about at our ends other than something like America's Most Wanted," he said.
Mrs. Townsend said there is some indication the man is from upstate New York, possibly Buffalo.
The area has its own horse tracks, and the man may have ties to the horse industry, she said.
"We may go to the horse community. I plan to do that right after the Masters," Mrs. Townsend said.
He was a white male age 35 to 40 at the time of his death. He was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 200-220 pounds. He had scars on his right cheek and above his right eye and smaller scars behind his left knee and on the top of his right foot.
He had brown eyes and brown hair combed forward to cover a receding hairline.
He used the names Scott Black and Jeffrey Daniel.
During his final days in Aiken, the man paid for everything in cash. He carried no identification. Hospital records show when workers asked who he was, he became uncooperative. He wanted to die in anonymity, and so far he has succeeded.