Victim identified in 1990 McDonald County cold case

MCDONALD COUNTY, Mo. – Authorities identify the victim in a 1990 McDonald County cold case with the help of forensic genealogy testing.

Last year, the McDonald County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Othram to use advanced DNA testing and forensic genealogy to try and find the identity and closest living relatives to “Grace Doe.”

They found a half-sister and identified “Grace Doe” as a missing Kansas woman.

The Cold Case

On Dec. 2, 1990, a couple walking on Oscar Talley Road in the southwestern part of McDonald County found the decomposed remains of a young woman not far from the road. The Sheriff’s Office says someone hogtied and dumped the victim behind a rural farmhouse.

In the 2000’s, Detective Lori Howard nicknamed the woman “Grace Doe”. Howard believed it was only by the Grace of God that the young woman’s identity would be found, according to the McDonald County Sheriff’s Office.

A coroner wrote in the autopsy that “Grace Doe” had been raped and strangled about two months before her body was found. She was restrained with six different types of bindings: nylon and lead ropes, coaxial and telephone cables, paracord and clothesline.

The Sheriff’s Office says investigators determined that the paracord was military grade MIL-C-5040H type II, a rope that was exclusively sold to the military in the 1990’s.

But without more information, her case went cold.

(Read more about the history of the case here.)

Identifying “Grace Doe”

In September 2020, Othram Inc. contacted McDonald County Sheriff Michael Hall. They decided to use advanced DNA testing to identify “Grace”.

Othram extracted DNA from the skeletal remains, and using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing, built a DNA profile to find distant relatives.

In January 2021, Othram Inc. called the Sheriff’s Office about candidate relatives identified for “Grace”. Othram identified them through genealogy research.

The Sheriff’s Office contacted the candidate relatives. Former Sheriff and current McDonald County Lt. Hall went down the list and contacted Danielle Pixler. During their conversation, Pixler said she had a half-sister, Shawna Garber. Garber was in foster care in Garnett, Kansas, but went back into state care.

Danielle didn’t know what happened with Shawna after she left foster care. She has been looking for her sister for more than 28 years.

Danielle agreed to contribute a DNA sample. The Topeka, Kansas Police Department took her sample and sent it to Lt. Hall, who forwarded it to Othram for testing.

Othram used a rapid familial test called KinSNP.

On March 29, 2021, Othram called the Sheriff’s Office saying the DNA from Danielle Pixler was a match to “Grace” as a half-sibling.

Shawna Garber was her only half-sibling that is missing.

Authorities have identified “Grace” as Shawna Beth Garber, born March 1, 1968.

Now, the Sheriff’s Office will work to trace Shawna’s steps and find out what might have happened to her.

Funding

They used DNASolves.com to help raise funding from the public for this case.
Southeast Missouri State University Anthropology Department contacted authorities and wanted to study the skeletal remains of “Grace” and allow students to do learning and anthropological analysis. Authorities allowed the study. The University also provided funding.