After more than three decades, the remains of a woman found in the Montana Wilderness have been identified. Now investigators want to know if she was murdered by a suspected serial killer.
A bear hunter came across a set of skeletal remains near Missoula County’s Crystal Creek in 1985, remains that became known for 36 years as simply "Christy Crystal Creek,” according to a Missoula County Sheriff’s Office press release obtained by Oxygen.com.
“Despite decades of work with forensic anthropologists and a forensic odontologist, and hours of research scouring missing persons databases here and in Canada, her identity remained a mystery,” the Monday press release states.
A mystery, that is, until, very recently when she was identified as Janet Lee Lucas, a 23-year-old woman from Spokane, Washington.
Photo: Missoula County Sheriff's Office
Earlier this year, Missoula County’s cold case unit partnered with private genetic lab Othram Inc, with financial assistance from the Montana Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative program, to undergo a forensic genetic genealogy investigation. A collaborative effort by the investigators and lab has previously resulted in the identification of Siobhan McGuinness, a 5-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the area in 1974.
After weeks of “intense genealogy research,” investigators were able to find DNA relatives and family trees which led them to Lucas’ family in Spokane.
Lucas had seven siblings and a 5-year-old son when she vanished. Investigators say her child grew up to spend “much of his adult life searching for Janet.” And now, investigators and her family intend to search for answers about what happened to her.
“Our focus has changed from “who is Christy Crystal Creek?” to “what happened to Janet Lucas?,” Detective Captain Dave Conway stated in the press release. “This is now a cold case homicide investigation and we need your help.”
Was she targeted by a serial killer? Investigators don’t appear to be ruling that possibility out.
“Due to the close proximity to where Janet’s remains were found and the remains of Debbie Deer Creek, the Cold Case Unit is reviewing evidence and reports from the Wayne Nance case file to identify any possible link between Nance and Janet,” the press release states.
Nance, known as “The Missoula Mauler,” was accused of killing six people in Montana between 1974 and 1986. He was killed when he broke into his employer’s home and was shot in 1986, the Associated Press reported at the time. At least one of his alleged victims was raped.
A public information officer for the sheriff’s office said they were unable to comment on whether or not they believe Lucas was sexually assaulted.
No records have been found showing Lucas living in or spending time in Montana. Her family hopes that someone who knew or saw her in Missoula county in the 1980s will recognize her and reach out to investigators.
“After decades of missing Janet, our family is broken hearted to learn that she was tragically taken, unidentified and spent a large amount of years alone. However, she never spent one moment without being loved. Janet had a contagious smile, warm personality and wore her heart on her sleeve,” her family wrote in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com. “Janet had been missed dearly, searched for but most importantly never forgotten.”