After 45 years of questions, tragedy, and mystery, the case of Florence Charleston has finally found closure through the power of modern DNA analysis. On Wednesday, the Nevada State Police announced the identification of the woman whose remains had been discovered in northern Nevada in 1978. She was confirmed to be Florence Charleston, a Cleveland, Ohio native in her late 60s who had recently moved to the Pacific Northwest. While the woman’s long-awaited identity has been revealed, the cause of death remains a mystery.
For those who knew and remembered Charleston, this long-awaited news came with shock and relief. Diane Liggitt, one of Charleston’s few living relatives, first learned of her aunt’s disappearance from her father in the early 1970s. Telling her she had moved out west with a new boyfriend and no one had heard from her.
Liggitt recalled when her phone rang this April, on the other end was Nevada State Police Detective Sean Koester introducing himself and telling Liggitt of the 45-year-old unidentified human remains found in Imlay, Nevada. After working with Othram Inc., a top-notch forensic genealogy laboratory, Charleston’s DNA profile was tested and linked to her niece.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office conducted the initial investigation into Charleston in October 1978, when the decomposing remains of the woman were recovered from a shallow grave with women’s clothing alongside her. An autopsy could not determine the cause of death, so the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The entry included a rendering of the woman as she was believed to have looked when she died, and investigators could contribute information on her stature, hair color, and handedness from the articles of clothing found on the scene.
To discover the truth behind Charleston’s death, the Nevada State Police and Othram worked together to develop a comprehensive DNA profile. It wasn’t until 45 years later that her family finally had an answer. Regarding the detective’s and laboratory’s importance, Liggitt said, “I hope I live long enough to learn how and why my Aunt Dolly was killed.”