Editor’s Note: After a West Chester Twp. woman’s remains were identified earlier this year, the Journal-News dug deeper into the process that made it happen. This report first published on March 8, 2019.
The success of a new DNA project that helped identity remains of a West Chester Twp. woman four years after her remains were found has more police agencies hopeful others can be identified.
The Butler County Coroner’s Office and West Chester Police announced on March 7, 2018, that Darlene Norcross, 61, is the woman whose remains were discovered on Mach 7, 2015.
In making the announcement, police also emphasized the importance of “watching out for each other” and reporting the missing.
Brothers Parker, Cole and Caleb Wilhelm found a skull in the woods behind their Gregory Creek Lane home in West Chester Twp. in 2015. Rain and snow made finding additional remains difficult, but all of the woman’s remains were collected, along with other items believed to have belonged to her.
A biological profile was developed of the remains, facial reconstruction was developed and DNA profiles were put into national databases to look for associations with missing persons’ DNA, Butler County Coroner Lisa Mannix said. Dental implants found with the remains were also sent for comparison to more that 200 dental offices.
But there were still no leads for years.
In 2018, forensic anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Murray of Mount Saint Joseph University, who had developed the biological profile of the remains, brought the DNA Doe Project to Mannix in the hope it would bring leads to the case.
The program involves volunteer genetic genealogists developing family trees based on DNA submitted to GEDMatch. This year, the Doe Project was able to determine a presumptive identification. Family members were located, and DNA samples were provided.
Earlier this week, positive identification was made.
Butler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer was watching as Mannix made the announcement Thursday. It is his hope the same process can be used to identify remains of a man found by the department in 1997.
On May 18, 1997, a man’s remains were found in the Great Miami River in Fairfield Twp. at the south end of Horseshoe Dam. He remains unidentified, but his information has been entered since 2008 in NamUS database.
The man is a white male approximately 30 to 60 years old, and he was wearing Structure-brand cut-off blue jean shorts, white jockey shorts, a belt with a gold-colored buckle and a silver-colored necklace with black beads. The man would also have a scar on the inside edge of his right eye from an old facial injury.
Dwyer said there was some evidence the man may have been hit on a bridge and knocked into the river.
The Norcross investigation is classified by West Chester Police as a death investigation. West Chester Police Lt. David Tivin said the body was scattered like an “archaeological dig,” but there were no signs of trauma.
Norcross had moved to West Chester Twp. after a failed marriage on the East Coast. She had no children, and her parents were deceased, according to police.
“She was self-employed for awhile, bought a car, bought the dental work,” Tivin said. “Then she just disappeared to everybody else.
Norcross, despite having family in the area, was not reported missing, according to police.
“This case reminds us that people can become so isolated, and it is important to stay in touch with relatives, to stay in touch with friends to look after each other,” Murray said. “It is disappointing that someone could not be reported missing. But in my 30 plus years of working with these unidentified cases you see more and more of that. People become isolated, people become estranged from their family. I think that is something we should all think more about in today’s society.”
The woman’s condo had been abandoned, but no notification to authorities.
“It is odd, is what I would call it. But a lot of times people stay in their own land, have blinders on and say ‘I don’t want to get involved,’” Tivin said.
The coroner said, “The important thing for anyone out there, if you have someone that’s missing, report them.”
People at times believe they have to wait to make a missing person report. That is not true, Dwyer said.
“There is no requirement for length of time,” Dwyer said. “We would rather have a report, look into it, have them come home or be happy to learn there was no foul play.”
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