Nearly 20 years after a woman's body was found northeast of Angola, police now know her name and are continuing to investigate her “highly suspicious” death, the Steuben County Sheriff's Office announced Sunday.
“We feel like one of the first steps in this investigation has been completed,” Detective Sgt. Chris Emerick said in an email Sunday night.
“It finally answers the question of who Jane Doe was, and it gives us great relief to help answer the question of the family members as to where this loved one has been for the last 20 years,” he added.
Police identified the body as that of Tina L. Cabanaw with assistance from Parabon NanoLabs, the same company that was used to identify April Tinsley's killer in 2018.
Her body was discovered Sept. 6, 1999, about 21/2 miles east of Interstate 69 just north of County Road 200 North in a field now home to Glendarin Hills Golf Club.
The body had been there about six to eight weeks, the sheriff's office said in a news release.
Cabanaw was reported missing to Detroit Police in July 1999, the release said.
An autopsy at the time ruled the cause of death as undetermined but highly suspicious.
Police tried various methods to identify the body, including sending it to the FBI Laboratory in Virginia for testing and entering DNA into the National Missing Persons DNA Database in 2007, the release said.
Last year, the sheriff's office and Steuben County coroner's office contacted Parabon NanoLabs to use its Snapshot DNA Analysis Service to find possible genealogical matches to the body.
Parabon produced a list of three potential family relatives who could each be a fifth or sixth cousin of the unidentified person, the release said.
Finding a closer next of kin took some traditional police work, including using the internet, phone calls and other modern technology consisting of various databases, Emerick said.
Although the three potential relatives were unable to provide direct information about Jane Doe, he said, they provided names of other relatives.
“I then used these same databases to reach out to a multitude of other potential relatives over a three- or four-day period,” Emerick said. “I obtained additional information from a long-distant relative from Georgia. She happened to remember a family member going missing in the late 1990s from the Michigan area. She provided the name and contact number of a woman that turned out to be Tina Cabanaw's sister.”
According to the release, the Indiana State Police Laboratory was unable to make an identification through DNA samples from the sister. A potential daughter was found, the release said, and a DNA sample from her helped identify the body as Cabanaw's.
Anyone with information about Cabanaw's death is asked to contact the Steuben County Sheriff's tipline at 260-668-4646 or Crime Stoppers at 260-668-7867.