ELK VALLEY, Tenn. (WATE) — A mystery in the Campbell County mountains is slowly being solved and it’s taking a multi-team effort.
“The fact that no missing persons that matched the description were reported in the area, that also makes it difficult,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brandon Elkins said in 2020.
But after nearly four decades, remains were found in the Big Wheel Gap Road area of the missing Indiana teen, Tracy Sue Walker.
“The difference between Tracy being unidentified versus identified was that we were able to combine the generosity of a philanthropist and cutting-edge genomic science,” Dr. David Mittelman said.
Mittelman is the founder and CEO of Texas-based company Othram Incorporated, a private laboratory specializing in “recovery, enrichment and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated forensic evidence.”
After many attempts from other scientists, Mittelman and his team received a bone sample from the remains in the Campbell County woods. Researchers at Othram created a DNA profile, which was then searched through a genealogical database. Later, a distant relative of Walker was found.
“We got back to the investigators at the TBI and said ‘I think we have a lead,'” Mittelman said. “And then, TBI reached out to the family, coordinated the follow-up testing and in fact were able to use the standard methods that in fact, this is a relationship.”
When investigators and anthropologists discovered the remains on April 3, 1985, they also found a necklace made of plastic buttons which were held together by a string.
One agent called the necklace unique but it was just one bone fragment that led to identifying Walker.
“With time, money, and patience, we were able to piece together the necessary information to work these cases from just a ‘case’ to an identity. It is a real pleasure to assist on this case. We love working with the TBI. The investigators are really just passionate and it’s always exciting when you have passionate folks get together,” Mittelman said.
The TBI is still working to figure out how she went missing from her Indiana home and how she ended up in Campbell County. If anyone has information about Tracy Sue Walker, contact the agency at 1-800-TBI-FIND.