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Police in Nevada identify girl found dead in 1980: "Now the pursuit of Tammy's killer or killers begins"

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

Police in Nevada announced Thursday they identified a 17-year-old New Mexico girl as the victim of a killing 41 years ago, and called her case an active murder investigation.

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Tammy Corrine Terrell Henderson Police Department

The teen, Tammy Corrine Terrell, was last seen Sept. 28, 1980, with a man and a woman at a restaurant after a state fair in Roswell, New Mexico, said Henderson police Capt. Jonathan Boucher.

Her body was found October 5, 1980, in what at the time was a desert area outside Las Vegas.

"Now we're only halfway there," Boucher told reporters during a news conference at which he asked for public help in the investigation. "Now the pursuit of Tammy's killer or killers begins."

The Clark County coroner determined Terrell died of blunt force trauma and ruled her death a homicide. With her name unknown, she was dubbed "Arroyo Grande Jane Doe" after the place where she was found.

Reports said she was stabbed and beaten to death, possibly with a hammer. She had facial injuries, multiple head wounds and puncture or stab wounds on her back. One of her teeth had apparently been knocked out.

Fingerprint and dental characteristics were logged with national databases, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children circulated a rendering of the victim in 2015. A description included references to a crude, apparently amateur "S" tattoo made with blue ink on the inside of her right forearm.

Boucher said DNA samples taken from the body at the time were recently reanalyzed and matched through genetic genealogy with DNA from two of Terrell's sisters.

"Tammy's sisters, I will tell you were tremendously grateful to finally know what happened to their sister 41 years ago," Boucher said.

CBS affiliate KLAS-TV reports Boucher said the case deeply affected the detectives who worked on it. He said Detective John Williams, who initially investigated the case, paid for Terrell's burial and continues to visit her gravesite yearly on the date of her death. Williams continued to work on the case even after he retired in 2006.

"I was working homicide for several years," Williams told the station. "And this was just one I basically took home with me."

Boucher also praised the current lead investigator in the case, Detective Joseph Ebert.

"The amount of work Joe has put in is just astonishing," Boucher said. "Their efforts have finally paid off."

Anyone with information on the Tammy Terrell case is asked to contact Henderson Police Department at (702) 267-4750 or CrimeStoppers at (702) 385-5555 to remain anonymous.

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