CHEATHAM COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — After just over a month, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has announced a second cold case victim’s identity through it’s DNA Cold Case Initiative, but this time, its for a woman who had been unidentified for nearly 40 years.
Through that initiative, samples from 10 unidentified individuals were submitted to Othram, Inc. a private lab in Texas in December. With the help of Othram’s DNA analysis, the TBI located the family of a second cold case victim, now known to be Michell Lavone Inman, from Nashville, who had not been heard from in decades.
In March 1985, a motorist with vehicle trouble discovered skeletal remains near a creek bank along Interstate 24 West in Cheatham County between mile makers 29 and 30. TBI agents, along with the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office, began investigating the death, but the identity of the individual remained a mystery.
Forensic anthropologists with the University of Tennessee Anthropology Department were only able to determine the remains were that of a white female; they also estimated the woman to have died two to five months prior to the discovery of her remains.
Over the years, law enforcement exhausted all leads but were never able to identify her — until now.
In December, TBI agents submitted a sample of the woman’s remains to Othram, Inc. for forensic genetic genealogical DNA testing using a DNA profile developed from the remains in April 2018. At that time, the UT Forensic Anthropology Center submitted a sample of the women’s remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI). A DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Person System in hopes that the woman would eventually be identified.
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Funding for the DNA initiative was provided from the Tennessee General Assembly in 2022. The legislature earmarked $100,000 specifically for specialized forensic genetic genealogy testing in TBI cold cases in which skeletal remains of a victim have not been identified, according to the TBI.
Thanks to the DNA profile developed, Othram, Inc. scientists were able to provide information about possible relatives connected to the woman. A TBI intelligence analyst used that information to locate potential family members in Virginia. Agents made contact with a family member and confirmed that he had a sister he had not heard from in more than four decades. Agents obtained a DNA standard from the man to be compared against the victim’s DNA utilizing forensic genetic genealogy.
That connection led to the positive identification of Inman.
Now that the mystery of the woman’s identity is solved, TBI agents are now hoping the public can help provide information that may help solver her murder.
Anyone with information about this homicide, specifically any knowledge about individuals Michelle Inman may have been with before her death, or recognize any of the clothing from the scene, is encouraged to call 1-800-TBI-FIND.
Genealogical DNA testing has become more prevalent in cold cases like this one. The Golden State Killer was one high-profile usage of genealogical DNA testing.
The technology was used to identify Joseph DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer in 2018.