Forensic anthropologist on quest to identify remains of woman believed to be victim
of Wayne Nance
MISSOULA -- Her ''girl'' is never far from Sydney Bacon's thoughts.
The girl lives in a Tupperware box. And right now, the box is in Hayden Lake, Idaho, with a University of Montana student who is studying her.
But she'll soon be returned to Missoula for what Bacon and others hope will be the next step in figuring out who she is.
Sydney Bacon, who has a master's degree in forensic anthropology from the University of Montana and who works for the Lolo National Forest, knows the girl better than almost anyone -- she detailed everything about her for her master's thesis. But someone, somewhere, knows her better.
Someone knows the name that goes with the bones in the box.
''It's very upsetting to me that she is not on a missing person's report somewhere,'' Bacon said. ''It's upsetting to me that there's no member of her family who seems to care about her.''
For now, the girl is known by several other names. Case No. 8509102. Christy Crystal Creek. A possible victim of the East Missoula serial killer Wayne Nance.
It's the connection to Nance, who killed at least four people and was himself killed by a homeowner as he tried to murder two others in 1986, that recently resurrected interest in Christy.
For more than 20 years, Christy was essentially the soul sister of another young woman known only as ''Debbie Deer Creek.'' Debbie's nude body was found in the Deer Creek drainage by a photographer on Christmas Eve 1984. Christy's remains were found by a bear hunter nine months later, scattered across a hillside in Crystal Creek, one drainage over from Deer Creek.
Two weeks ago, Debbie was identified as Marci Bachmann, a 16-year-old runaway from Vancouver, Wash. Bachmann, who ran away from home at age 14, was identified through a combination of good fortune and persistent police work. The identification was made possible, in part, by a federal grant that has allowed the University of North Texas to become a sort of repository and testing ground for unknown remains.
Missoula County authorities had sent Bachmann's femur to the lab in 2004, and researchers there made a DNA match when a King County, Wash., detective trying to sort out the final loose ends of the Green River killer case sent them some DNA samples from Bachmann's family. Bachmann's case had ended up on the desk of Raphael Crenshaw because she was young, from the area and disappeared during the time the Green River killer was active.
Sheriff's investigators had long believed Bachmann was a victim of Nance, whom she met at the Cabin Bar in 1984. After his death, they found hair at Nance's home that matched Bachmann's hair. But they never had a name until the North Texas researchers came through.
''That was a big relief for all of us,'' said Missoula County sheriff's Capt. Greg Hintz. ''You always want to be able to reconnect a family with their loved ones.''
Now the focus has fallen on Christy Crystal Creek. Hintz has known her from the start, known about the two bullet holes in her skull, known about the Nance connection.
He is contacted on a regular basis by people who think Christy might be this woman or that, but so far, he's never made the match. But with the work being done at North Texas, he's once again hopeful that Christy's identity might be closer to discovery.
''The technology is out there,'' Hintz said. ''All we have to do now is a little more work.''
Primarily, that work consists of sending one of Christy's bones to North Texas. Then it's a matter of crossing fingers.
''There's no getting around it -- we need some luck,'' Hintz said.
The problem, of course, is that the North Texas lab may produce a perfectly good DNA sample and have nothing to match it to. If some law enforcement agency somewhere doesn't have evidence on the woman or her family, a match is unlikely.
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And one of the key methods of identifying remains has already been tried and failed with Christy.
''She had very distinctive dentistry work done,'' Bacon said. ''It's unique work and extreme work.''
Christy had excellent and extensive dental care until maybe a year before her death, Bacon believes. She had fillings in almost every tooth, and had two root canals, including one in a relatively rare location.
''And then it all just stopped, about a year before she died,'' Bacon said. ''Somebody stopped taking care of her, or she stopped taking care of herself.''
That sort of dentistry is often enough to identify an unknown body if someone, usually a family member, has given the dental records to law enforcement so they can be entered in the FBI's computerized National Crime Information Center.
''We checked that so many times, but it's always the same,'' Hintz said.
That suggests that Christy might not be listed anywhere as a missing person, but it's also at least remotely possible the dental records weren't available.
''You always hold out hope that something's out there we can make a match to,'' Hintz said. ''We're going to keep hoping in this case.''
About six years ago, Sydney Bacon tuned into the Wayne Nance case.
''It was just sort of the urban legend thing you hear about serial killers,'' she said.
Then she took an anthropology class from Garry Kerr at UM and read the book ''To Kill and Kill Again,'' John Coston's look at the Nance case.
''Then about 2002, I was struggling for a thesis topic and Garry said, 'Why not Christy?' '' she recalled.
Bacon got permission from the sheriff's department, where officers were open to anything that might help identify the woman. And then she got Christy's remains in an old box.
''I got her a new box, and used a good clean towel, you know, just trying to treat her with respect,'' she said. ''I had this little pillow I kept her head on.''
Slowly, Bacon came to know Christy. She started calling her ''my girl.''
''I guess I started to feel like I could really do something for her, get her back to her family or someone who cared about her,'' she said.
Christy was petite, maybe 5 feet tall, 18 to 21 years old. She weighed maybe 100 pounds. Her remains suggest the possibility of both Caucasian and Asian heritage, and she was most likely right-handed. She smoked and, Bacon speculates, may have used drugs in the last years of her life.
''I don't think she was from around here, based on the way Missoula reacts to somebody going missing,'' she said.
Bacon has long felt Christy might be from the East Coast, a runaway most likely, but that's just a hunch.
''That's not really what we do in forensic anthropology, make assumptions, but I have a tendency to do that a little bit,'' she said. ''I think when you spend that amount of time with someone, you start feeling like you know them in some way.''
Bacon knows Christy better than most, but she doesn't know enough. She doesn't know her name.
But we now know Debbie Deer Creek's name, and that has given her hope.
''When I finished my thesis, a lot of people said, 'So, she's identified now, right?' '' Bacon said. ''Just because I finished a thesis doesn't mean she's identified. She's not. But I want to help in any way I can to see that that happens. I want her to be able to go home to a family.''