PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After an exhaustive forensic investigation, the victim in a cold case from 1971 has now been identified as a 16-year-old girl from Aberdeen, Washington.
DNA testing led investigators to the sister of the victim, who is now confirmed to be Annie Lehman.
Dr. Nici Vance, the forensic anthropologist for the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner’s office, said her office worked with the DNA Doe Project to finally identify Annie.
“The DNA Doe Project contacted us and and asked if they could be part of our case,” Vance told KOIN 6 News. In March 2018, “we submitted a portion of the remains to a lab. That lab reported some DNA results to this genetic database, this geneology database, and then the DNA Doe Project had their volunteers work on that family heritage tree in order to find a match.”
Eventually they narrowed it into one family tree, then interviewed Annie’s biological sister.
Vance said she’s “ecstatic, humbled, really honored” that the Oregon State Police were part of this.
“We’ve been searching for this little girl’s identity for so long and it really is very rewarding to be able to give back to her family.”
When the teen’s body was found in rural Josephine County in 1971, investigators had a number of clues to work with, yet her name remained a mystery for all these years.
“We had a houndstooth coat that was pink and beige in color. We had all of this really compelling jewerly, one of which was a mother-of-pearl ring that had the initals AL scratched into it,” Vance said Friday. “That was always a clue that we couldn’t figure out.”
There were also shoes with square plastic heels, a pair of Wrangler jeans, 38 cents in coins near the skeletal remains, a map of Northern California recreational sites.
Some people believed she was a runaway. Others believed she was abducted, a victim of human trafficking.
“We needed to find her first and last name, really, to start this investigation,” she said. “Once we know what we found out in the last 2 days, now our detectives can move forward. We can figure out who she was last seen with. We can figure out who her school friends were. We can figure out where she was going in life or maybe what her aspirations were. That all plays a role in her situation and ultimately what led up to her demise.”
The case today
The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office told KOIN 6 News they do suspect foul play in Annie Lehman’s death. They’re working with police in Aberdeen to learn more, and they’re still working to determine the cause and manner of death.
Detectives in Josephine County would like to hear from anyone who had contact with Annie between 1970 and 1971.
Vance said Annie’s sister is sad. “I think the family is really now in a position to start mourning.”
There are still many questions in this case but, Vance said, “I think for the family we’re able to bring just a little bit of resolution to a mystery they’ve been living with for decades.”
For Dr. Nici Vance, identifying Annie Lehman — who would have turned 65 this year — gives her the inspiration to keep going on the other cases of the unknown who still need to be identified.
“I think probably the most interesting and most poignant thing for me is the fact we had called her ‘Annie’ all these years. And then her name ended up being Anne. That is just so telling, I think, that we got her name right before we even knew her first and last name.”