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1985 homicide victim found in shallow grave in Florida identified as Maryland woman

Tracing family trees to catch killers
Inside the genetic genealogy being used to solve crimes 13:49

The skeletal remains of a homicide victim found in Florida in 1985 have been identified as a woman from Maryland who last spoke to her family over a decade before. 

The remains were found in a shallow grave on Crescent Beach in St. Johns County, Florida, in April 1985. The remains were several years old at the time of the discovery, according to a news release from Othram, a company that uses forensic genealogy to solve cold cases. 

The investigation confirmed that the remains were that of a White woman who had been between 30 and 50 years old at the time of her death. However, the case remained cold until 2011 and 2012, when renewed efforts led the University of South Florida to develop a forensic composite of what the woman might have looked like. DNA testing was also performed on the remains, and that information was uploaded into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. 

The South Florida crime scene. Othram Inc.

The information shared online did result in several leads, Othram said, but none led to the woman's identification. 

In 2022, investigators with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office attended a class where forensic genetic genealogy was discussed, Othram said. The method uses DNA analysis and genealogy records to try to find someone whose DNA is a match to the initial profile and try to identify the profile using that relationship.

The sheriff's office submitted evidence from the remains to Othram. Scientists at the private lab developed a DNA profile and searched genealogical records to find investigative leads. Those leads were given to the sheriff's department, which launched a follow-up investigation that led to possible relatives of the victim. 

The investigation soon identified the victim as Mary Alice Pultz of Maryland. Pultz's family said they lost contact with her around 1968, Othram said. 

Mary Alice Pultz. Othram Inc.

Rumors had spread that Pultz had been killed by her boyfriend in either Florida or Georgia, Othram said. An investigation into Pultz's murder is still ongoing. 

Pultz is survived by one sibling. Her younger sister, now 72 years old, told investigators that she had believed she would die without knowing what happened. 

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