The Fairfax Homicide Unit worked the case for years, just trying to figure out who the woman was. In 1999, an officer created a three-dimensional image of her face and showed it to the media, hoping someone would recognize her. A composite drawing has been released. Press conferences near the site of what is now Sharpsburg Drive have been held over the years, trying to find leads. Nothing.
Hoping to solve the mystery of a skeleton
But the rapidly evolving science of genetic genealogy has provided an answer: Sharon Kay Abbott Lane, a mother of two who grew up in northwest Indiana and lived for a time in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, was the victim of the homicide. She would have been 34 in 1993, when her body was found.
Fairfax police again turned to Othram, a forensic laboratory based in The Woodlands, Texas, to identify a woman who had remained anonymous for nearly three decades. Earlier this year, Othram identified a McLean woman found shot dead in 2001 as Patricia Gildawie, as well as a woman who took her own life at an Annandale cemetery, Joyce Meyer Sommers, in 1996.
She died and became the “lady of the Christmas tree”. Now we know his name.
As with Sommers, Sharon Lane has long been estranged from her family, who had heard she might be in Northern Virginia but didn’t really know. While living in Hammond, Indiana, in the 1970s, she had her first child at 16 and her second at 19, her daughter Kimberly Lane said in an interview. About a year after that, Sharon Lane disappeared and her children, aged 3 and 1, never saw her again, Kimberly Lane said.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Kimberly Lane said. “I don’t know much about her. I really want to see who is responsible brought to justice.
In the mid-1980s, Kimberly Lane said, her mother called her out of the blue. Kimberly was between 8 and 10 years old. “She gave me a phone number where I could reach her,” Kimberly Lane said, and mentioned living in Fairfax. “He asked me if I loved her. I kept that phone number in a wallet for years, ended up losing it, never had contact with her. I always thought I would hear from her as an adult, but I haven’t.
After Fairfax police provided Othram with DNA samples from the unidentified woman, the lab was able to perform advanced genome sequencing and work with public-source DNA databases to locate a cousin, and police then found a brother of the woman, Fairfax cold case detective Jon Long. said. The brother said Sharon Lane had a daughter named Kimberly and a son named Michael in Virginia. Long and Detective Melissa Wallace started calling Kimberly Lanes in Virginia and eventually found the right one. Kimberly Lane provided her DNA and confirmed the identity of her long-lost mother.
Genealogy tests give answers to family of woman missing for 47 years
“I’ve heard stories from my dad,” Kimberly Lane said. “She was really young, really wild, into some drugs, with the wrong people. He felt like he couldn’t leave us with her. Kimberly Lane recalls trying to feed her crying baby brother cereal while they were alone in an Indiana apartment. Her parents were separated by then, and her father was summoned to Indiana to take custody of the children, who later grew up in Big Stone Gap, in southwestern Virginia.
“I always wondered what happened,” said Michael Lane, who said he had no memory of his mother. “I’ve always had a bad feeling in my stomach. I’d rather know that than not. This gives some closure. The timing is a bit shocking. You kind of forget it.
Michael Lane said he had tried to contact his mother’s family over the years, but they also had little contact with Sharon Lane. He said he once tracked down his mother’s grandfather, who told him that Sharon had called him at the prison in Falls Church, Virginia, asking for money, which the big -father refused.
Michael Lane said he also located one of his mother’s sisters, who said she received a phone call in the middle of the night around 1991 with someone shouting, “Your sister is dead, your sister is dead! He said he didn’t believe his mother’s family had filed a missing person report.
“I thought maybe she had started a new family somewhere,” said Michael Lane, who still lives in Big Stone Gap. “It kinda freaks me out that she’s still in Virginia. I’m sure she mixed with the wrong people. Lane’s ex-husband, who also had no contact with her, refused to be interviewed.
Fairfax has between 10 and 20 homicides a year in a population of over one million, so everyone is worked on aggressively and Lane was one of the oldest unsolved cases. Retired Lieutenant Bruce Guth, who led the homicide unit from 1994 to 2009, said Lane’s case “was handled by many detectives who were frustrated that they could not identify him”.
“That case was one of those that sticks to the soul because I thought if we could identify him, we could solve the murder,” Guth said. “I’m super excited that she’s been identified.”
Sharon Lane’s clothes were mostly deteriorated, but she had jewelry, a red hair clip and yellow barrette, and Life Savers wrapper. Police said she was thin, between 5ft and 5ft 3in tall, had fairly thick dark blonde to light brown hair, and her teeth were in an advanced state of decay.
“We’re looking for someone who knew her at the time,” Long said. He said Sharon Lane’s siblings were also distant from her. “Any information would be very useful, because we are starting from scratch. We really hope to receive good phone calls.
Anyone with information about Sharon Abbott Lane is asked to call 866-411-8477 or go to fairfaxcrimesolvers.org. A reward of up to $1,000 is available for information leading to a conviction in the case.
Correction: Photo of Sharon Lane holding her baby girl Kimberly was first misidentified as her son Michael. The caption has been corrected.
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