OSBI Program Aims To Identify Missing Persons

Friday, October 29th 2010, 1:08 pm
By: News On 6

Lori Fullbright, News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is beginning a program to identify the remains of dozens of missing and unidentified people in the state.

Its created a special unit to identify the 200 sets of remains in Oklahoma, in hopes of solving some of these missing persons cases. But, they need DNA from the victims' families to make it work.

One of those victims is Karen Heim. She spent a great Christmas with her family five years ago, then disappeared without a trace. Her car was found in Texas, wiped clean of prints, doors open, purse on top with her driver's license, social security card and money still inside.

None of it makes sense and the not knowing is an open wound in her family's heart.

"It's a struggle everyday when I wake up to not just go crazy over this," Ryan Underwood, Karen's son, said.

There are around 100,000 missing person cases in America and 40,000 sets of unidentified remains in coroner's offices or pauper's graves.

DNA from the families of the missing can be entered into a database with DNA from the remains to see if there's a match.  The University of North Texas does the DNA work for free.

"They will only be searched for unidentified remains in the system; they won't be run through any other database, like convicted criminals or unsolved crimes samples," said BJ Spamer, with the University of North Texas.

The program has already solved 550 cases and now with Oklahoma joining, they hope that will be even more.

Louis and Jackie Heim gave their DNA and encourage other families to do the same.

"I'd heard about it," said Jackie Heim, Karen's mother. "I was a little scared, but, it's not bad at all to do and we realize how important it is and we just hope one of these days, we'll have a conclusion."

The folks running the program say it's never too late, even if your loved one has been missing since the 1950's or 60's, they'd like family DNA and the more relatives who send in samples, the better.

You can register your missing loved one on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Family members can contact the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Unidentified Remains Unit at 800-522-8017 and they'll use a kit and run a swab inside your mouth and mail it off to the University of Texas' missing persons program.

Family members can also contact the medical examiner's office, Tulsa Police or Department of Corrections.

The Associated Press contributed to this story