Leads sought in Clark County cold case murder

Teen girl's remains found in 1980 near Chelatchie Prairie

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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In hopes of putting a cold case to rest, forensic specialists have re-created the face of a teenage girl whose remains were found 36 years ago in north Clark County.

Investigators released the computer-generated image Monday in hopes that doing so may spark someone’s memory and help identify the girl. Investigators think the girl was between 13 and 18 years old and was the victim of a homicide sometime in the late 1970s, said Nikki Costa of the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Her skeletal remains were discovered when a father and son were out panning for gold in the Chelatchie Prairie area Feb. 24, 1980, according to Columbian archives.

The bones, which included an intact skull, were found in a dumping area near Fly Creek and were scattered across an area of about 100 feet.

Investigators first thought that the remains could belong to Jamie Grissim, a 16-year-old who disappeared on her way to Fort Vancouver High School in December 1971. Detectives compared dental records of the remains to Grissim’s, but there was no match, according to archives.

Detectives scoured other missing persons reports, but they weren’t able to identify the remains.

A year after the bones were discovered, investigators sent the skull to Oklahoma, where experts created a facial reconstruction of the girl. A forensic odontoligist who helped identify human remains in the Jonestown mass suicide assisted on the case.

They even employed the help of a medical illustrationist. Because most of the girl’s teeth were preserved with the skull, experts were able to determine that the girl regularly visited the dentist and her mouth had some unique characteristics. Drawings of the teeth were published in dental journals in hopes of finding a dentist who worked on the victim, but no one ever came forward.

Efforts to identify the girl continued for decades. In 2005, investigators sent the skull to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, where experts used computers and other modern techniques to create another image of the girl.

The image matched Grissim’s face in some ways, so Grissim’s DNA was sent to be compared with that of the bones. The result proved definitively that the remains were not Grissim’s.

So after 36 years, the bones remain unidentified, something that Costa is determined to change.

“I just don’t give up on stuff,” Costa said. “Somebody needs to do this.”

Costa, operations manager for the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office, is working with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit.

She has again connected with NCMEC, which has created yet another composite of what the girl would have looked like.

Instead of molding a face from clay, this time a forensic image specialist used a CT scan of the skull to create a digital rendering.

Although there is no way to be entirely accurate, especially when it comes to skin and hair, the result is a more precise portrayal of what the girl would have looked like.

“Technology is in our favor,” Costa said.

Ashley Rodriguez, forensic case manager at NCMEC, said that the organization has a lot of long-term missing children cases and one of the ways the organization tries to close those cases is by working on unidentified juvenile remains.

“The ultimate goal is to give these searching families some answers,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of families have been seeking answers for a very long time.”

The case of the unidentified young woman found in Clark County in 1980, Rodriguez said, is no different. Rodriguez is hopeful that getting the image out to the public will spark a memory and someone will come forward with a piece of information that will identify her.

“She had a family, she had friends, there are people who knew her. There are people out there who wonder where she is and what happened to her,” she said. “Thirty-six years is a very long time. It’s time for her to go home; it’s time for her to go back to her family.”

Anyone with information that could identify the girl or lead to her killer is asked to call the Clark County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case tip line at 360-397-2036 or the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office at 360-397-2595.