Thanks to forensic work, cold case heats up again - FOX 13 News

Thanks to forensic work, cold case heats up again

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She is the talk of the town in Bushnell – a mystery woman murdered back in 1971.

Now, thanks to some amazing forensic work by scientists at both USF and The University of Florida, we now know plenty about this missing woman and where she may have come from.

Sumter County Sheriff's deputies think she may have been in Tarpon Springs for the Epiphany celebration, which back then had an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 in attendance.

Her face has beguiled detectives for more than 40 years.  It's a cold case that's suddenly getting a lot hotter, thanks to new digital recreations by Dr. Erin Kimmerle with USF's anthropology department and new analysis of her hair and teeth by Dr. George Kamenov at The University of Florida.

"On the victim, when she was discovered, on the victim's left wrist, she was wearing a 17-jewel Baylor watch," said Detective Darren Norris.  "Facial features are very strong. She does have the long, dark hair, some more jewelry that she did have on, you can see here, there's a very thin, gold chain that she had on at the time of her death. And also on her left ring finger she did have a gold ring with a clear stone."

Kimmerle re-created the woman's plaid pants and green and white floral shawl – the entire outfit – from poor-quality autopsy photos.

Sumter County captain Kevin Hofecker led us back to where the body was found under a span called the Lake Panasoffkee Bridge along I-75.

"The state, nor the county, was as populated as it is now," said Hofecker. "Certainly you can only imagine how isolated and desolate it was then."

Two hitchhikers found her body underneath the bridge back in 1971. Investigators suspect she'd been in the water at least 30 days. She'd been strangled with a belt that was wrapped tightly around her neck.

"She had a belt, a man's belt, wrapped around her neck," said Norris, who is the lead detective on this case. 

He said the woman got the name "Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee" in 1986 from then-sheriff James Adams.

"This is her actual height, 5-foot-2 approximately," said Hofecker pointing to the life-size image in his office. "It's to scale."

"She had some extensive dental work done, that we know," Norris said.

Forensic science then seemed to indicate she might be American Indian. But now, based on high lead content in her teeth, Kamenov believes she is from a town 60 miles southeast of Athens, Greece, called Lavrion.

"Just to get her back to her family, get the remains back where they belong," said Norris.  "There's got to be a grieving family somewhere, and that's what we're trying to find."

On Friday, detectives from Sumter County will be in Tarpon Springs handing out some 6,000 fliers with the woman's image and description on them. 

They hope it will generate some heat on this still cold case.

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