Body of missing woman may be buried in Texas

Saturday, October 30th 2004, 4:03 pm
By: News On 6

ELK CITY, Okla. (AP) _ The body of an unidentified woman will soon be exhumed from an unmarked grave in Texas to determine if she is an 18-year-old Elk City woman missing for 26 years.

Melva Lynn Hudgens and two friends were walking along State Highway 66 in Elk City after experiencing car trouble when a car with Missouri plates stopped and two white men offered a ride. Hudgens accepted, but her friends didn't.

``I knew when I heard she left with them guys that I'd never see her again,'' Hudgens' mother, Florella Bashaw, said Thursday.

Denton County, Texas, sheriff's investigator Don Britt said he always believed someone must remember the young woman who was murdered in his county back in 1978. Four years ago, he pulled out the case files and got to work.

``There had to be someone out there still asking for her,'' he said. ``Figured, let's see if we could get her home.''

The woman's body, buried as ``Jane Doe,'' will be exhumed within the next two weeks for DNA testing.

Throughout the years, Bashaw visited with the Beckham County Sheriff's Department, each time hoping to learn something about her daughter. When Bashaw asked for help again last year, Sheriff Scott Jay reopened the case.

Eventually, a Denton County investigator stumbled upon her picture on a Web site and asked Britt to look at it.

``The more we looked, the better she looked,'' he said.

Bashaw said the pictures she saw of the body found in Texas look like her cheerful daughter, but she still hopes Hudgens is alive somewhere.

``I'm still looking, and I'll be looking until the case is closed,'' Bashaw said.

``We're sure it's her but the DNA will assure it,'' Jay said.

Britt said DNA analysis could take a few months depending upon what remains are available to test. He said he thinks the body was buried in a wooden coffin that likely has collapsed.

``She was buried in a pauper's grave,'' he said.

The body was shot seven times and found in a creek near a blacktop road between Denton and Sanger on April 10, 1978. Dwight Crawford, the original investigator now retired from the department, said it appeared the young woman was running away as someone shot her.

Crawford said he also remembered the case through the years and wondered why he couldn't find out where she belonged although he looked extensively in Oklahoma.

``I've hung onto it all these years,'' he said. ``There wasn't but one person who showed up at her burial except me and the preacher.''

Jay said deputies will begin concentrating fully on the investigation after the DNA evidence comes back.

``Hopefully we can not only give the family some closure but also bring someone to justice,'' he said.