Human remains discovered in southwest Mo. sent to St. Louis

Friday, January 2, 2004

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. -- Human remains discovered in the rubble of an old farmhouse have been sent to a St. Louis lab, where DNA tests will be performed in hopes of identifying the partial skeleton.

A study of the bones indicates the remains are those of a right-handed white female, age 19-33, who stood between 5-feet and 5-feet-2-inches, said Lawrence County Coroner Don Lakin.

"DNA could clear this case up in 30 minutes," Lakin said. "If we hit on a name, it could bring closure to somebody's family."

Lakin said he's convinced the woman fell victim to foul play. "To me, it's a homicide until you prove different," he said.

Seven agencies on case

Seven law-enforcement agencies around the state, including the Springfield Police Department, all are working missing-women cases, Lawrence County Sheriff Doug Seneker said.

Springfield detectives, who are working on an 11-year-old case of three missing women, visited the farmhouse on Christmas Eve. Sgt. Mike Owen said his interest was piqued when Seneker released the skeleton's probable height.

"We know our three missing women were in that range," the detective said.

Sherrill Levitt, 47, her daughter Suzanne "Suzie" Streeter, 19, and Suzie's friend Stacy McCall, 18, vanished in the early morning hours of June 7, 1992, from Levitt's home.

"Anything that fits with that case in this part of the state, we'd be interested in," Owen said. "What we're interested in is the DNA."

Owen said investigators have the means to identify each of the three women through DNA. They plan to compare their information to the findings in the Lawrence County case.

The results of the DNA tests from the St. Louis lab will be sent to the FBI in Kansas City, where authorities will check the agency's databases for a possible match, Seneker said.

"We don't expect the DNA to come back for a couple of weeks, and we don't know how long it will take to compare to the DNA in the databases," he said.

The investigation began two weeks ago when about 20 of the bones were handed over to the sheriff. They were discovered last year by a man who was tearing down the farmhouse. The man kept the remains in a box until a friend, who works in a hospital, identified them as human.

The sheriff said investigators have unearthed nearly all the vertebrae, arm bones, most of the leg bones, ankles, wrists, fingers and toes -- nearly 100 bones total. But still missing are the skull and pelvis, authorities said.

"You haven't got a skull. You haven't got a pelvis," Lakin said, discounting speculation that animals may have made off with those pieces. "The pelvis is a large bone. If an animal carried that off, why didn't it carry the rest?"

Lawrence County investigators also found a woman's ring at the site. They're not sure whether it belonged to the victim or was dropped there over the years.

The sheriff said Tuesday he planned to stop his officers from digging and sifting through the rubble at the site until more information is made available.

"It is a true mystery," Seneker said. "We have hopes that we can end the mystery for someone out there."

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