Authorities in upstate New York have identified human skeletal remains that were found in the Allegheny Reservoir in September 2009.
According to the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Office, the remains belong to Traci Douglass, a 45-year-old woman from Salamanca who has been missing since 2006.
During a Tuesday press conference, Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb credited advances in DNA testing and assistance from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City with making the identification possible.
Douglass' cause of death has been listed as unnatural and investigators suspect foul play was involved.
"The umbrella of unnatural death could include a couple of different things," Whitcomb said. "It could be suicide [or] it could be accidental. More than likely in this case what we are leaning toward, however, is foul play."
A fisherman discovered the remains along the edge of the Allegheny Reservoir on Sept. 26, 2009. There was initial speculation that the remains belonged to Corrie Anderson, a mother of three from Ashville who went missing in October 2008, but the medical examiner was able to rule her out using dental records.
TRACI DOUGLASS CASE PHOTOS: (Article Continues Below)
The remains were then handed over to Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. A preliminary forensic examination by Dirkmaat revealed the remains were likely those of a woman between the ages of 25 and 45.
Due to the condition of the remains and the fact that they had been in an exposed environment for a lengthy period of time, forensic experts had a difficult time extracting DNA. It was not until recent advances were made in the process that experts were able to obtain a usable sample and make the identification.
Whitcomb is now hoping that the identification of the remains will help detectives uncover new leads in the case.
"This effort is a plea to anybody in the public to please contact us if you have any information whatsoever regarding Traci Douglass," he said. "We would like to hear from anybody and everybody in her social circle."
"We are still in a frustrating place right now because this is not solved," he added. "This is about determining what caused this to happen and seeking justice if necessary if that is what is required in this case."
Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department at 716-983-9191.