Forensic art may have helped solve cold case

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University of South Florida forensic anthropologists and forensic artists from across the country have been working to give faces to nameless murder victims this week.

On Friday, they got their payoff. Two Tampa sisters believe they may have finally found the older sister who left home 38 years ago and was never heard from again.

Shelia Williams and Sharon Scott were just children when their older sister, Brenda Joyce Williams disappeared. Now, 38 years later they believe they're finally looking at her face again thanks to a bust created during this week's Art of Forensics workshop.

"It's the same to me," said Williams. "I was looking at the height, the build, the high cheekbones."

The Jane Doe's badly-decomposed body was discovered in a remote field used as an illegal dumping site in Tampa back in 1985. The remains were those of a petite black female, between 20- and 30-years-old, and who weighed around 100 pounds. She's one of the 20 John and Jane Does whose faces were recreated this week.

"She was found by fishermen. At the time of her discovery, she was in such a state that we weren't able to identify who she was," said Tampa PD detective Scott Bullard.

Bullard oversees approximately 380 cold case files in the city of Tampa. Four of those victims were brought to life again by forensic artists and unveiled Friday at the Tampa Bay History Museum.

Paloma Galzi created the bust - labeled case 5 - of the unidentified woman Williams believes is her long-lost sister.  As a forensic artist, helping to identify a victim is her ultimate goal, but this is the first time she's been in the same room while a grieving family looked over and reacted to her work.  

"It's very emotional, it's quite overwhelming, but this is what we do," said Galzi. "It's just a mixed feeling about achieving something, but at the same time, it's just tragic."

The timeline for Benda Williams' disappearance and the discovery of the Jane Doe in question don't exactly add up, but detectives say it is possible Williams could have left home, only to be killed seven years later.

"Just based on the physical description we had at the scene, it's possible [it's her], but I don't know that it's probable," said Bullard.

Scott says 38 years of looking for her sister has been an emotional rollercoaster. She's been convinced several times she'd been discovered, only to find the DNA didn't match up.

"It's been so difficult for us. Every time we hear about the remains of someone being discovered or someone being exhumed, we wonder, 'could that be her?'" explained Scott, who has traveled across the state to submit DNA when other unidentified bodies were found. "A few years ago, they found the remains of a woman on Cesar Street and we thought, 'that has to be our sister,' but then the DNA on our niece, her daughter, didn't match."

Younger sister Sheila, however, thinks they've finally found Brenda.

"To me, that bust looks like my mom and my grandmother," said Williams. "Honestly, I think it's her and there's only one way you can prove it's not my sister."

Thanks to advances in DNA testing, Williams and Scott may finally get their proof. Cold case detectives took samples of their DNA Friday to compare with DNA gathered from the recently-exhumed remains of their Jane Doe. The sisters should know within two months if the bust they saw today is their sister, Brenda Joyce Williams. Even if it's not, their DNA will remain in a national database, so if their sister's remains are ever found, they'll know it.

To read about the John and Jane Does scientists and detectives need help identifying, visit