A missing person investigation that was initiated in Turlock has finally come to a conclusion with the identification of human remains that were found in the Florida Everglades 25 years ago.
DNA evidence confirmed the identity of the remains as that of Patricia Minnis, whose daughter reported her missing to the Turlock Police Department in 1992.
Minnis’ death has been ruled a homicide by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in Florida and they have identified a person of interest in the case, though investigators have not released the person’s name to the public.
For the Collier County Sheriff’s Office the investigation began April 3, 1990, when a prison work crew stumbled upon the badly decomposed remains in a heavy wooded area along U.S. 41 in Big Cypress National Preserve, about 22 miles south of Everglades City.
An autopsy revealed the woman had been dead for about three weeks and had died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to the sheriff’s office. A homicide investigation was initiated and detectives went about trying to identify the woman.
Some clothes were found on the body, but no identifying clues were recovered. Investigators took DNA evidence from the remains and submitted it for forensic testing. The autopsy also revealed the woman had extensive dental work done and had metal plates in her lower back. However, no leads could point investigators to her name.
In 1999, a forensic expert with the Jacksonville County Sheriff’s Office used Minnis’ skull to rebuild her face in an effort to help jog the memory of someone who might recognize her and contact authorities, but it was to no avail. The woman remained a Jane Doe.
For the Turlock Police Department, the investigation began as a report of a missing person. Minnis’ daughter, whose name was not released, was a resident in Turlock and contacted the police department because she had a growing concern for her mother’s well-being. It had been more than two years since she had any contact with her mother, but that wasn’t completely out of the norm.
Minnis was an avid RVer and would routinely take off on jaunts around the country with her husband — the daughter’s stepfather. The pair would often be gone for long stretches of time and be out of contact with family members.
What sparked the daughter’s suspicion is when her stepsister found Minnis’ purse while cleaning out the RV for her father. When the stepsister asked her father about the purse he told her Minnis had met a man in Florida and had run off with him.
Minnis’ daughter didn’t believe that her mother had run off and just stopped contact with her children, so she contacted her local law enforcement, which happened to be the Turlock Police Department and made a missing person’s report on May 9, 1992.
“The purse was key to everything because it initiated enough questions and suspicions from both children,” said Detective Thom Cullen of the CCSO Homicide Section and the lead investigator in the case.
Because of the suspicious circumstances of the case, the Turlock Police Department kept in regular contact with the daughter and in 2006 a community service officer with the department asked her to come in and submit a DNA sample that was then submitted to a national database with the Department of Justice, said Turlock Police spokesperson Officer Mayra Lewis.
The DNA proved to be extremely useful for Collier County Sheriff’s investigators, who had resubmitted the DNA evidence from the case in 2005. The break finally came on July 18 of this year when the sheriff’s office received a letter from the University of North Texas Center For Human Identification. The letter stated that DNA evidence resubmitted for testing in 2005 was a strong possible match with DNA submitted by Minnis’ daughter in 2006.
Senior Criminal Research Investigator Kim Cherney in Florida began her investigation armed with the DNA report. She began contacting dentists and doctors for medical records comparison and discovered that the victim had back surgery in which implants were placed. She contacted several hospitals but no records of the victim’s surgery were found. The hospital could only advise that the implants were manufactured in 1988.
She also conducted Internet searches and law enforcement database searches on the victim. She contacted various campgrounds in Collier County and major travel/camping membership clubs to see if there was any information on the victim.
In 1990, the couple traveled through many Southern states, including Florida and the Everglades area, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Now that detectives have a name for the homicide victim found 25 years ago they are beginning their search for her killer.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at (239)-252-9300, or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).