KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced on Tuesday that a child whose skeletal remains were found in Campbell County 37 years ago has been identified.
The girl was identified as Tracy Sue Walker. Walker went missing from Lafayette, Indiana in 1978 when she was 15 years old, the TBI said.
WBIR has covered the unsolved homicide case previously as part of its "Appalachian Unsolved" series.
On April 3, 1985, Walker's remains were found in the Big Wheel Gap area of Elk Valley. How long her bones had been there remains a mystery.
Forensic anthropologists at the University of Tennessee determined the remains were those of a female between the ages of 10 and 15. But investigators had no way of identifying Walker at the time, so she became affectionately known as "Baby Girl", according to the TBI.
In 2007, a sample of Walker's remains were submitted to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, or UNTCHI, in hopes of identifying her, the TBI said.
A DNA profile was developed for Walker and entered into the Combine DNA Index System (CODIS) as well as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in hopes that she would eventually be identified, according to the TBI.
Earlier this year, working with the UT Anthropology Department, a sample of Walker's remains was sent to Othram, a private laboratory that analyzes human DNA. There, scientists conducted forensic genetic genealogy testing, the TBI said.
In June, Othram provided a possible relative connected to Walker who was living in Indiana. Using that information, a TBI intelligence analyst located potential family members in the Lafayette area, almost 400 miles from Campbell County.
Appalachian Unsolved: The girl in the woods
A TBI agent made contact with those individuals and confirmed they had a family member go missing from that area in 1978, according to the TBI.
Still unclear is what happened to Walker in that gap from 1978, when she apparently disappeared until her bones were found in 1985.
With the assistance of the Lafayette Police Department, agents were able to obtain familial DNA standards for possible siblings of the girl, which were submitted to the TBI Crime Lab in Nashville for entry into CODIS. It was a match.
"An amazing case, and one that speaks to the power of the advancements in science and the tenacity of our investigators," TBI Communications Director Josh Devine tweeted about the news.
The TBI is now asking for the public's help in determining how Walker died and how she ended up in Campbell County. Authorities have told WBIR they suspect she was a homicide victim.
If you have any information about this case or any knowledge about individuals Walker might have been with before her death, please call 1-800-TBI-FIND.