Body Stuffed in Sack Left in Desert ID'd 52 Years Later

Colleen Audrey Rice, found dead in Arizona in 1971, hailed from Ohio
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2023 1:59 PM CST
Body Stuffed in Sack Left in Desert ID'd 52 Years Later
A yearbook photo of Colleen Audrey Rice, born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1931.   (Mohave County Sheriff's Office)

An unidentified woman whose body was found stuffed in a sack in the Arizona desert in 1971 is nameless no more. Fifty-two years to the day after her body was found, Mohave County's oldest unidentified murder victim was identified Tuesday as Colleen Audrey Rice, a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, the Washington Post reports. A sketch of the woman—described as 5'4", 125 to 140 pounds, with curly brown hair—was shared by police in 1971 but led to no significant leads. Cold-case investigator Lori Miller revisited the case in 2020 but "struck out" in checking fingerprint and dental records, she tells the Post. "And so last resort was to try to ID her through her DNA."

That required the public's help as the sheriff's office didn't have funds for the $7,500 genome-sequencing fee. It supplied $1,000, with the remainder coming in a crowdfunding effort organized by forensic genealogy lab Othram. "We were able to fund it in five days," Miller tells the Post, adding "there are people out there who felt the same way as we [did], that this woman deserved a name." With Rice's genetic profile, investigators started looking for matches in family trees. Typically, "we'll notice there's probably somebody missing or unaccounted for in the tree," who is "usually a good candidate for being the person that we've found," Othram founder David Mittelman tells the Post.

The key came in identifying a distant relative of Rice's in Ohio, confirmed with a DNA sample. The man provided a yearbook photo of Rice that bears a strong resemblance to the 1971 sketch. She was born March 17, 1931, as the daughter of James Rice and Flossie Truitt. She married William Davis just 15 years later but little else is known about her history, per KVVU. According to Miller, Rice lost contact with extended family after high school. It's unclear how she ended up in Arizona. Her body was found in a canvas bag reading "Deer-Pak Ames Harris Neville Co.," which had been tied shut with rope, roughly two miles east of Highway 93 on Hackberry Road. Anyone with information should contact the sheriff's office. (More cold cases stories.)

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