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Remains found on side of NC interstate over 30 years ago identified as Georgia woman

ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. — A woman whose remains were found over 30 years ago have been positively identified this week.

Orange County Sheriff, N.C. officials announced that the remains of a woman found by road crews 33 years ago belonged to 20-year-old Lisa Coburn Kesler of Jackson County, Georgia.

Investigators believe someone strangled Kesler one week before her body was dumped along the side of Interstate 40 east.

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Although authorities first used the emerging science of DNA to obtain a conviction in a separate criminal case in 1986, forensic applications of DNA was still new technology when Kesler was found dead in 1990.

Officials said although investigators were able to prove or identify someone’s involvement in a crime with DNA, it could not be used to identify an unknown person.

“Throughout the decades, some of our finest investigators kept plugging away,” Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said. “When you can’t close a case, it gets under your skin. You might set the file aside for a while, but you keep coming back to it, looking to see something you didn’t notice before, or hoping information gathered in ensuing cases has relevance to your cold case. Investigators also monitor new techniques and technologies in the field, which is what eventually led to the breakthrough in Ms. Kesler’s case.”

Investigator Dylan Hendricks, who took over the case in June 2020, sent a degraded hair fragment to Astrea Forensics for DNA extraction. After they returned a DNA profile, Hendricks asked forensic genealogist Leslie Kaufman to assist with the case.

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After they identifyied Kesler, investigators began interviewing people who they believed could be related to her.

“Essentially, there was a Lisa-shaped hole on a branch of the family tree right where the DNA told us Lisa should be, and no one knew where she was,” Hendricks said.

Eventually, investigators requested DNA from a suspected maternal relative and the results came back as a match.

“I am very happy we solved the three-plus-decades-old mystery of this young woman’s identity, and I hope it provides solace to her family members,” Blackwood said. “We are grateful to the many investigators, passionate volunteers, and talented professionals who assisted with this effort. I believe we collectively demonstrated the value of dogged determination, which we will now apply to the task of identifying her killer. There is no statute of limitations on murder, and no time clock on justice.”

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No further information regarding potential leads in Kesler’s case has been released.

Anyone who has information regarding this case is asked to call Hendricks at 919-245-2951.

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