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Vacaville Police Identify Woman's Remains 28 Years After Her Body Was Discovered

VACAVILLE (CBS13) - Police in Vacaville were finally able to identify the remains of a woman found 28 years ago, thanks to advancements in fingerprint technology.

Cynthia Merkley (credit: Vacaville PD)

The body of Cynthia Merkley was discovered while in 1991 while the Vacaville Premium Outlets were being built. She had been dead two to three weeks. Investigators at the time did not find any obvious signs of foul play, neither could they determine how she died, according to a Vacaville Police Department statement. To complicate the case, no one recognized Merkley, so it became a Jane Doe death investigation.

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With her fingerprints nearly gone, police recreated Merkley's face in clay and later as an artist sketch, but no one was reported missing, so her identity remained a mystery for decades.

Updated fingerprint technology was able to provide investigators the break they were looking for, police say. The fingerprints matched a woman who had previously lived and been arrested for minor crimes in both Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz.

She called herself Cynthia Merkley, but her real name was Cynthia Bilardi, a 38-year-old wife and mother who had left her family behind.

"We learned that she just went off and started doing her own thing, but we don't know what that is yet. So, she had contacts in Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz and be have no idea why she was in Vacaville at the time of her death and that's what we're trying to put together," said Vacaville Police Department Lt. Chris Polen.

Police say it's still unclear how she died.

A missing person report was not filed for Merkley because she was estranged from her family for several years before she died.  This was Vacaville's only Jane Doe case.

Police said there has been a tradition within the Vacaville Police Department for all new detectives to be assigned to this mysterious case of Jane Doe. That's still the case, but they'll be looking at different angles now.

If anyone has any information on this woman, they are asked to contact police.

[Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Merkley's remains were found during the construction of Folsom Premium Outlets.]

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