Officials in western Montana, working with a private DNA lab in Texas, have identified the victim of an early 1980s homicide and are now investigating to see if she may have died at the hands of a suspected serial killer, the Missoula County Sheriff's Office said Monday.
DNA obtained from the skeletonized remains, which were found in Missoula County in September 1985, was compared to commercial databases and was traced to the family of Janet Lee Lucas of Spokane, Washington. Lucas was 23 when she was last seen in Sandpoint, Idaho in the summer of 1983.
"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," her family said in a statement released by the sheriff's office. "However, she never spent one moment without being loved. Janet had a contagious smile, warm personality and wore her heart on her sleeve."
She had a 5-year-old son at the time of her death and now has four grandchildren, the family said.
When officials couldn't identify her, she became known as "Christy Crystal Creek," after the area where her body was found. She had been shot twice in the head and her remains were found by a bear hunter.
Two suspected victims of Wayne Nance were also found east of Missoula. They were initially called "Debbie Deer Creek" and "Betty Beavertail," but were later identified as Marci Bachmann, 16, and Devonna Nelson, 15. Nelson's remains were found in 1980 and Bachmann's in 1984. Both girls had been shot in the head.
"Our focus has changed from 'who is Christy Crystal Creek?' to what happened to Janet Lucas," Detective Capt. Dave Conway said. "This is now a cold case homicide investigation."
The remains of Bachmann and Lucas were found in the same general area so the sheriff's office's cold case unit is reviewing evidence to see if there's any link between Nance and Lucas, the sheriff's office said.
Nance is suspected in at least six killings, but was never tried or convicted, in part because he was killed by an intended victim.
Nance was suspected in the 1974 death of Donna Pounds, the mother of some of Nance's school friends. She was shot to death in her basement. Prosecutors were unsuccessful in getting an indictment.
In December 1985, Nance is believed to have broken into a home in Ravalli County, tied up Mike and Teresa Shook and killed them before setting the house on fire. Their children were rescued from the burning house. Two items stolen from the house were later found at Nance's residence, the Missoulian reported.
Nance died in September 1986 at the age of 30. He went to the home of his boss in Missoula and knocked Doug Wells unconscious. He forced Kris Wells to tie her husband up before Nance tied her up to a bed, investigators said. He then beat and stabbed Doug with a knife before going back upstairs. Doug was able to free himself, grabbed a rifle and shot Nance.
The suspicions against Nance were chronicled in a 2016 book, "To Kill and Kill Again," by John Coston.