Finding closure, 20 years later
More about NamUs
NamUs was created to solve just such problems as arose with Bandy.
It had been estimated that there are approximately 40,000 unidentified human remains in the offices of the nation’s medical examiners and coroners or were buried or cremated before being identified. In a typical year, medical examiners and coroners handle approximately 4,400 unidentified human decedent cases, 1,000 of which remain unidentified after one year.
As of 2004, more than half (51 percent) of the nation’s medical examiners’ offices had no policy for retaining records — such as X-rays, DNA, or fingerprints — on unidentified human decedents.
To further investigate the extent of the problem, NIJ assembled an expert panel of medical examiners and coroners who found that the primary need was for a central reporting system for unidentified human remains.
Another problem also cropped up — the reporting of missing persons cases. Cases of missing persons 18 years old and younger must be reported, but reporting adult missing persons cases is voluntary. Only a handful of states have laws that require law enforcement agencies to prepare missing person reports on adults. Overall, there is a low rate of reporting these cases through NCIC. One of the major goals of NamUs is to meet this challenge. For example, NamUs will work with state clearinghouses and the public to ensure that data is included in NamUs and other national-level databases.
A Nevada County family has achieved some much-needed closure, after their sister — first reported missing in 1996 — was found to have been killed in a traffic accident in 1993 and buried as a Jane Doe in Texas.
The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office took the missing persons report on Pamela Louise Bandy in November 1996, said Sgt. Bob Jakobs.
“She hadn’t been seen in about two years,” Jakobs said.
Bandy’s sister, Marcie Beaver, reported her missing, and told deputies she had a history of mental illness and bouts with drug use, Jakobs said, adding that it was not unusual for family members not to hear from her for a long time.
According to Beaver, Bandy had drifted in and out of Nevada County after the family moved here, settling in the county in the mid-1980s.
Bandy’s father remembered having spoken to her on the phone several years prior from a truck stop in Arizona.
“She was hitchhiking,” Beaver said. “He got mad at her and she hung up.”
That was the last time anyone ever heard from her.
Bandy was entered into the state and national databases for missing persons; the trail was cold, however, and no information was ever received.
Flash forward to 2013, when DNA samples were collected from several family members and uploaded into a national DNA index system with DNA profiles contributed by federal, state, and local participating forensic laboratories, that looks for matches from crime scenes and from registered offenders.
“We never did receive any matches,” Jakobs said.
In April of this year, Bandy’s information was entered into NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System — a national centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified (and unclaimed) decedent records launched in 2009. NamUs is a free online system that can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials and the general public from all over the country.
Unlike the National Crime Information Center, which is only accessible to law enforcement, the information is accessible to the public, Jakobs explained.
“We are in the process of having all our missing persons and unidentified remains cases uploaded into NamUs,” he said. “It’s a process that takes some time — we are going back all the way into the 1970s.”
Initially, Jakobs said, no match was found.
Finally, clues surface
Then Bandy’s profile was published to the California Attorney General website for missing persons. In late May, staff from NamUs coordinated with the Attorney General’s office so that it could access more biometric data, such as fingerprints, dental and DNA records.
Bandy’s FBI record was run and it was found that it had been purged, with an indication that she was deceased, Jakobs said; police in Temple, Texas had reported her death in November 1993.
Even then, local law enforcement kept running into brick walls.
“I reached out to authorities in Temple, but they had no record of her,” Jakobs said, adding that he also contacted the Dallas bureau of vital statistics, the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science in Dallas and the state Department of Health Services in Austin.
No one had any records or a death certificate for Bandy.
At that point, Jakobs said, he was steered to Texas Ranger Marcus Hilton. After Jakobs told Hilton that he hadn’t been able to find a record for Bandy, and raised the possibility she was listed as a Jane Doe, Hilton started searching for any Jane Doe death certificates that matched the November 1993 date.
Hilton soon found a match — a Jane Doe killed in a traffic collision in Bell County, south of Temple.
The medical examiner pulled the records but they were “quite limited.” There were, however, some tattoo descriptions that convinced Jakobs he had found Bandy, along with some minimal dental records.
The mortuary no longer had Jane Doe’s records, but the cemetery was able to locate her gravesite.
Then, another roadblock. Jakobs couldn’t track down Jane Doe’s fingerprints, so discussions began on the possibility of exhuming the body.
“We were in the process,” he said. “But on Nov. 9, I got a call saying they had found the print card from the autopsy.”
Pamela Bandy finally had been found.
“We confirmed her identity and we were able to remove her from the missing persons system,” Jakobs said. “They are amending the death certificate.”
By all accounts, Bandy’s death was simply an accident.
According to the incident report, she was seen sitting beside the road, waving her arms, at about 2:15 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1993. She suddenly jumped into the road and was hit, the report stated. Her cause of death was listed as multiple traumatic injuries; she had no ID on her.
Deaths in Texas typically are investigated by a justice of the peace, Jakobs explained.
“We know her prints were taken and sent to the FBI,” he said. “We don’t know where the disconnect happened — we don’t know that we’ll ever get to the bottom of that mystery. But at least we’re able to give the family closure at this point.
“This was the family’s mystery, as to what happened to her.”
Beaver said she was relieved to find that her sister’s death was simply an accident.
“I thought she had been murdered, to be honest,” she said. “I knew something had happened to her.
“Closure is comforting,” Beaver mused. “Her whole story is tragic. She went through a lot of abuse in her life. The tragedy is drugs and alcohol.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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