CSI: Peninsula: Cold case reopened after human bone found in drained lake
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office has opened up a command post on the bottom of former Lake Aldwell after the reservoir was drained by the removal of the Elwha Dam. Detectives reopened the case of Karen C. Tucker (inset), who went missing in 1991, after a human leg bone was found in the lake bottom. -- Photos courtesy Clallam County Sheriff’s Office
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Karen C. Tucker, 41, had been reported missing Jan. 5, 1991, Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Lyman Moores said.
“She came up missing out there, and that’s the closest case we have now known in that area,” he said.
As of Tuesday morning, however, authorities did not have specific information linking Tucker’s disappearance with the tibia, Moores said.
The bone was found May 15 by a Clallam County couple walking their dog in the reservoir bed, Moores said, adding that the couple did not want their names made public.
Lake Aldwell behind the Elwha Dam was drained as part of the $325 million Elwha River restoration project that began in September.
The couple noticed the tibia sticking out of the top layer of reservoir-bed silt about 1 mile south of the Elwha River Bridge on U.S. Highway 101.
At first, they thought it was a stick they could use to play fetch with their dog, Moores said.
They turned the bone over to the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, which contacted the Olympic National Park, Moores said.
The discovery was not made public until Tuesday to allow the tribe to examine the bone and determine, with help from park officials, that it was of human origin but not ancient Native American remains, Moores said.
A Sheriff’s Office cadaver dog later “alerted” in four separate areas within 20 feet of where the bone was found, indicating the possible presence of other remains, Moores said.
Sheriff’s Office, park and tribal personnel, including archaeologists, cordoned off the area where the bone was found and Monday began excavating to search for more remains, Moores said.
Search-and-rescue personnel are aiding the effort by screening dirt to find more clues, he said.
A DNA profile from the bone will be compared with Tucker’s DNA profile, Moores said.
It will take about a month to determine whether DNA from the tibia matches that of family members that was recently obtained when the Sheriff’s Office updated its missing-person reports, he added.
Her DNA profile also will be entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), an FBI database, to compare it with the profiles of missing persons nationwide, Moores said.
Tucker, who was living with her boyfriend in a cabin at the Elwha Resort near the Elwha River Dam, was last seen New Year’s Day, 1991, Moores said, adding that her disappearance was reported by her boyfriend.
“Sometimes, there is a delay in reporting to law enforcement on missing persons just so they can verify to themselves that a person is missing,” Moores said, adding that the boyfriend was never a suspect.
The resort and its cabins, located in a remote area 10 miles from Port Angeles, no longer exists, according to a 2006 Sheriff’s Department investigative report on Tucker’s disappearance.
Tucker’s daughter Sophie Hill, 42, of Eugene, Ore., who said Tuesday in a telephone interview that she thinks of her mother on a daily basis, said she was “pretty excited” about the bone being found.
“Every time I see that someone has gone missing in the news, I pray that they get an answer because when you have no answer, it drives you crazy,” Hill said.
She said that from time to time, she visits the area near Lake Aldwell where the resort once was “to make an offering of flowers.”
“It’s a circular thing, where I’ve sort of been stuck in one step of grieving, then been circling back,” Hill said.
“It hasn’t allowed me to move forward with a way to say goodbye without some answer” about her mother’s fate, she said.
The circumstances surrounding Tucker’s disappearance were reconstructed in the investigative report “due to the fact the original case file has been lost,” the report said.
The department’s original 1991 investigation included use of a psychic “who claimed to know where [Tucker] was located,” the report said.
“There have been no further developments that would warrant reactivating this investigation,” the report concluded 15 years later.
The report included a synopsis from the original investigation that said Tucker “has been suicidal in the past.”
Hill said that her mother was diagnosed with agoraphobia and was unemployed and living on supplemental Social Security income when she went missing.
But Hill said she did not believe her mother took her own life.
“It believe it was a bad combination of drinking and her medication that night,” Hill said.
“It could have caused an accident, and she could have been disoriented,” Hill said.
Hill said the last time she visited her mother was in 1990 for Thanksgiving.
Hill said that about six months earlier, her mother had left her late stepfather, whom Hill said physically abused Tucker.
“After all that she had lived through, she was in a pretty good situation,” she said.
“It didn’t make sense.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: June 19. 2012 6:07PM