KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Local law enforcement and forensic investigators have made a breakthrough in a mystery that has lasted nearly a quarter century.
In 1998, a man collecting cans stumbled upon a woman’s body along Stinking Creek Road in Campbell County. Deputies showed you the site of the original discovery in 1998. Later, WATE brought you renderings that attempted to show how the woman might have appeared in life. Then, in 2015, WATE was there as the woman’s remains were dug up to try new DNA techniques.
Now, that woman has a name: Lori Alexander.
Autopsy reports show she was shot in the head and stabbed in the chest.
“It was one of our oldest cases on file,” said Knox County Regional Forensic Center Chief Administrative Officer Chris Thomas.
When Alexander’s body was found, investigators had no way of knowing they had just opened what would become a 23-year-old cold case.
“We were trying to find out what the next step was to identify her,” Thomas explained.
In 2015, Alexander’s body was exhumed so the forensic center could use advanced technology to try to find her identity. Investigators used DNA analyses, dental analyses, and even clay/paper renderings of what they believed she looked like. Nothing worked.
“We were trying to get a DNA profile match from her,” Thomas explained. “Unfortunately, there was no DNA in the system submitted by any family that made a match to this case.”
Then, in 2021, the Knox County Regional Forensic Center made a decision that changed everything.
“We had some fingerprints and we had submitted at one point in time into a database but technology had changed and we submitted them to the TBI database through the FBI labs,” Thomas told WATE.
The submission led to no matches. Until a few months later.
“January of this year the FBI reached out to us,” Thomas said. “The Toledo Police Department had recently digitalized their fingerprints and the FBI was able to make that match.”
Since Alexander’s identity was discovered, Tennessee and Ohio authorities have worked together to find her family. Although Thomas did not speak to the family personally, he was later told how the conversation went.
“It was more disbelief. Like ‘they tell me you have her?’ and it was like ‘yes ma’am. She’s been positively identified.’ They said they’d just begin to work on arrangements.”Chris Thomson describing local law enforcement’s call with Lori’s family
Since that phone call, Lori’s remains have been cremated and sent back to her family in Ohio. However, here in Tennessee, the case has not closed. The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, the primary agency handling the case, plans to meet with the district attorney’s office to discuss their next steps.
By the way, the forensic center currently has the remains of 15 people who are still unidentified. The center’s website lists several tabs where users can view unidentified people‘s descriptions and claim those they recognize.