ST. MATTHEWS - Authorities are a little closer to identifying the remains of a woman discovered in a remote wooded area, but continue to appeal for the public's help.
New information in the case was released Monday, including an updated facial reconstruction and a possible name: Maria.
"The experts analyzed and measured the skull and compared it to Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic females. They determined that the cranium is the most similar to the Hispanic populations," Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers said Monday. "Based on this new information, an updated facial reconstruction has been created."
The woman's skeletal remains were found in a remote area of western Calhoun County on Sept. 27, 2008.
Investigators have previously said the woman was wearing a black cotton night gown with a teddy bear design featuring the words, "Beary Heavenly."
An initial facial reconstruction was released in early 2009, but Summers said since that time advancements in research and technology have made additional resources available to investigators.
"To aid in the investigation and to positively identify the victim, the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office and the State Law Enforcement Division have consulted with the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee," Summers said. "Forensic experts have examined the skeletal remains and have determined the following: the victim is likely a female between the ages of 25 and 40 and of Hispanic origin."
The initial findings were that the woman was a white female between the ages of 40 and 45.
Summers noted the latest findings do not determine exact ancestry, but he said the remains are believed to be predominantly of a Hispanic background.
From the beginning of the investigation, the case has been treated as a homicide based on what Summers said was evidence found at the scene. That evidence has not been released.
SLED Agent Lt. Michael Prodan said once the woman is identified, her killer can then be sought.
"People don't just disappear. The individual who is responsible for this woman's death is likely someone who had an animosity toward her," Prodan said. "The fact that she was found in a night shirt indicates to us that this was not something that happened in a public place."
When the woman's remains were discovered, a leather bracelet bearing the name "Maria" was found with her. Authorities can't be certain yet if the name refers to the victim, but it at least gives her a tentative name. The name on the bracelet is in English.
Prodan said someone who knew the victim or saw her regularly may have been given excuses or told she left the area.
"The issue is the person who is responsible would have to have made some kind of explanation to people who knew who this person is and why this person is no longer there," Prodan said. "They would have had to of come up with some explanation as to why this person, quote unquote, left the area."
Prodan said that explanation may have seemed vague and implied a permanent reason she was no longer seen around the area.
Summers said investigators have pursued "numerous leads" that have ranged across the country.
State constables have been distributing posters of the new facial reconstruction, he said.
If anyone has any information on the woman's identity, they are asked to contact the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office at 803-874-2741, the SLED Cold Case Unit at 1-800-414-2862, or Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIMESC.
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