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Remains dumped in garment bag and buried in shallow grave are identified 45 years later


Florence Charleston (Othram Inc.)

Imlay, Nevada, has a population of 178 people. According to Google Maps, the sleepy own has its own fire department, elementary school, and post office. If you blink, you might miss its Thunder Mountain Monument.

In October of 1978, 13 miles west of town, someone alerted the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office after they found what they believed were human remains. Long stretches of empty, dirt roads brought investigators to Scossa Road, where the remains were discovered.

Detectives found a garment bag buried in a shallow grave. Human remains were stuffed inside along with women’s clothing.

The remains were transferred to the Washoe Medical Center — about 130 miles south west of Imlay — in Reno. A coroner performed an autopsy and confirmed the remains were those of a Caucasian woman who had been between 40 and 50 years old. The cause of death could not be determined.

Investigators were unable to identify the woman.

The following May, the sheriff’s office teamed up with the Nevada Department of Public Safety (NDPSID) for help. Investigators there were able to submit the woman’s dental records and were able to complete a facial reconstruction for her. Detectives also worked with the FBI to obtain identifying information from the articles of clothing investigators originally collected.

Facial reconstruction of Florence Charleston (Othram Inc.)

The woman’s mitochondrial DNA profile was obtained and the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) as case #UP17848.

Forty-three years went by.

In March 2022, NDPSID and NamUS reached out to Othram Inc. Its technology “enables local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies across the United States and internationally, to break through previously impenetrable forensic DNA barriers and close previously unsolvable cases.”

“Othram’s scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified woman,” a press release from states. “Othram’s in-house genealogy team used the profile to develop investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement investigators.”

The woman stuffed in the garment bag was identified as Florence Charleston. She was from Cleveland, Ohio. Her family confirmed she had moved to Portland, Oregon, in the early 1970s. The family said they lost contract with her around 1978.

“My cousin and I were both — we were really close to her,” Diane Liggitt, a surviving relative, explained in an interview with the Associated Press. “She was Dolly to us. That was her nickname, Aunt Dolly.”

The investigation into Charleston’s death is “ongoing,” detectives say.

“We always wondered what on earth happened to her,” Liggitt said. “We hate what happened to her. Absolutely. She was such a kind person, a nice person. I can’t imagine anybody would want to hurt her. I just can’t.”

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Anyone with information about Charleston’s death is asked to contact the Nevada Department of Public Safety Investigation Division at  775-684-7456 and reference agency case number C-79-095.

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