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Officials have "positive leads" in girl's 1980 slaying after remains found in Texas identified

Tracing family trees to catch killers
Tracing family trees to catch killers 01:56

A body found along an interstate in Texas 41 years ago has finally been identified as a 14-year-old girl missing from Minnesota, according to sheriff's officials. New DNA technology and forensic genealogy helped investigators track the unidentified remains to a handful of possible relatives, authorities said this week.

  Sherri Ann Jarvis  CBS Minnesota

Investigators eventually determined the remains are those of Sherri Ann Jarvis, whose nude body was spotted along the interstate near Huntsville by a trucker in November 1980. The cause of death was asphyxia by strangulation, Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae said at a news conference.

Authorities believe she was last seen alive at a nearby truck stop, asking directions to a Texas prison farm, CBS Minnesota reported.

Her family told investigators she'd been in trouble for truancy at home in Stillwater, Minnesota, and was sent to a foster home before she disappeared. It wasn't clear how she got to Texas or if she had any connection to the prison.

Walker County Sheriff Chief Deputy Tim Whitecotton said her slaying remains unsolved.

"We actually have some positive leads right now. We're very excited about some of these and definitely are following up with our other law enforcement partners, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Texas Rangers," Whitecotton said.

CBS affiliate KWTX reports that Othram Labs used a technique called forensic grade genome sequencing to help unravel this mystery. The Houston FBI Field Office said they will be the hub for the investigative genealogy technique.

"This is an extraordinary case as the sheriff said and we're putting resources together and using technology to solve some of our older cases that we have," said Special Agent Torrence White of the FBI.

In a statement read at the news conference, Jarvis' family thanked the people who worked to find her.

"We lost Sherri more than 41 years ago and we've lived in bewilderment every day since, until now as she has finally been found," the family said.

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