Cold case victim’s sister talks about her decades long search for her sister

Grace Doe, victim in 30-year-old cold case, identified as Shawna Garber.

MCDONALD COUNTY, Mo. – Earlier this week, authorities announced that they had finally identified a woman found dead in December 1990 in McDonald County. Authorities believe the victim — referred to as “Grace Doe” — was raped and killed, her body left on Oscar Talley Road.

The case had gone cold for 30 years, until advanced DNA technology lead authorities to the half-sister of the victim. Grace Doe was actually Shawna Garber. That half-sister, Topeka, Kansas resident Danielle Pixler, says she had been searching for Garber for almost as long as the case had been active.

“I was told so many different stories. You did have a brother and sister, and you don’t. And I was like, you know, I want to know,” explains Pixler.

Pixler says she, her brother Rob and sister Shawna Garber went through the foster care system and were separated at a young age. So she doesn’t remember much about her sister.

“I remember a couch. What was on the back of the couch. And there was two people that were siblings,” says Pixler.

Knowing that she had family out there, when she was 18 Pixler started searching for her brother and sister. She found her brother Rob after using social media to look for him, but Shawna was still out there.

“I printed her pictures off, I randomly would get into phone books all over, like California. I mean, you name it, I did it. I was bound and determined to find her,” says Shawna.

She later learned that her sister had been in a foster home in Garnett, Kansas. But she was surrendered back to the state, so no one she talked to knew much more than she did about where she could be. So her search continued — and after 28 years, it’s over. Earlier this year, she received a phone call from Lieutenant Michael Hall at the McDonald County Sheriff’s Office, telling her that she could be related to the victim in a cold case homicide from 30 years ago.

“I was like, ‘What?’ I thought somebody was like scamming me or something,” explains Pixler. “I had to call him back to make sure it was him.”

The McDonald County Sheriff’s Office had partnered with Othram, a company in Texas that specializes in human identification for hard to solve cases.

“The testing we do is literally tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of markers of DNA.” explains Michael Vogen, Director of Case Management at Othram. “Using that data, we’re able to generate really good DNA profiles that can then be used to upload into various databases to find the closest of ken of the source of DNA that we’re looking for.”

Using advanced DNA testing and forensic genealogy, the company compiled a genealogical tree of people who could have been related to “Grace Doe.”  Pixler was on that list. So she was asked to provide a DNA sample at the Topeka Police Department. A few weeks later, the results were in. Grace Doe was her sister Shawna.

“I was freaking out. I was overwhelmed. I was crying. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this,'” says Pixler.

So she had finally found her sister Shawna. And even though the outcome wasn’t what she hoped for, it’s still a relief to get some form of closure.

“We just needed that. We all needed that. And it was rough because, yeah, I was having dreams and nightmares, you know? And I just didn’t know what to think,” says Pixler.

Now that “Grace Doe” has been identified, investigators are moving to the next step in the investigation — finding who killed her. And while there are still a lot of unanswered questions, Pixler wanted to share her story so that others in her shoes don’t give up.

“Anything can happen. 50 some years later you could find out. Don’t stop looking, don’t stop… I mean, don’t.”


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