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Woman found dead by rock climbers in Nevada in 1997 is identified: "First lead in over 20 years on this cold case"

The remains of a woman who was found buried under rocks in 1997 in rural Nevada have been identified, giving the cold case its "first lead in over 20 years," officials said Thursday. 

The identification was made using forensic genetic genealogy in a partnership between the medical examiner's office and Othram, Inc., a company that specializes in the technique. 

The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office said the woman has been positively identified as Lorena Gayle Mosley, also known as Lorena Gayle Sherwood, who was 41 at the time of her death, according to a news release from the county. Rock climbers found Mosley's body buried beneath rocks in rural Washoe County in June 1997. The cause of death could not be determined because of "severe decompositional changes," county officials said, but it was deemed a homicide "due to the circumstances." 

According to Othram, investigators initially could not even determine the woman's hair or eye color. Details of the case, including some items and clothes that were found with the remains, were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and a forensic reconstruction of what the woman may have looked like was made, but there were still no leads in the case. 

Lorena Mosley. Washoe County

The forensic evidence in the case was submitted to Othram in 2023, and scientists at the company used genome sequencing to develop a "DNA extract," Othram said. The company then built a "comprehensive DNA profile" for the remains. The profile was then used "in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads" that were then turned over to the medical examiner's office. There was also a request for community assistance, the medical examiner's office said. 

The medical examiner's office then led a follow-up investigation, according to Othram, and old paper fingerprint records were "positively matched to fingerprints taken from the body after death." This was done with the assistance of the FBI, Othram said. The follow-up investigation led to the identification of the remains. 

Mosley's next of kin was notified and is now able to claim her remains, county officials said. 

"This is the first lead in over 20 years on this cold case, made possible through new technology and innovation, and the generosity of donors," said chief medical examiner and coroner Laura D. Knight in the Washoe County news release. The cost for the investigation was covered by donors to Othram and the medical examiner's office. 

"I am deeply gratified to be able to give Ms. Mosley the dignity of being laid to rest with her name," Knight continued.

The sheriff's office is continuing to investigate Mosley's death. 

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