ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Time traveling is how some victims describe the work Brandon Elkins does.
“We’re going back in time to what happened to that person and who that person was at the time and giving them their name back,” he said.
Elkins, who is a special agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said it was in October of 1981 when hunters found skeletal remains of a young girl at an old landfill off Highway 249 in Ashland City.
“During that process of working the scene, they obviously collected the remains, and those remains were taken to the University of Tennessee to be looked at by forensic anthropologists,” he said.
Investigators still couldn’t identify the young girl.
Decades later in 2007, a sample of her remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification where a DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing Unidentified Persons System.
The hope was that their team could eventually identify those remains.
“Unfortunately, there were no matches,” said Elkins.
After the state approved $100,000 to fund a DNA cold case initiative, Elkins said the TBI submitted this and 10 other causes to a private lab in Texas in December 2022.
“If you don’t have someone’s name or identity, its almost impossible to figure out what happened to them,” said Dr. Kristen Mittelman.
Mittelman is the chief development officer for that private lab called Othram Inc.
She said for the next several months, their lab used forensic genetic genealogy to identify those remains.
“Our genealogy team took all the matches that came up in the genealogical databases that helped build a family tree that put our unidentified remains into one family,” she said.
Four decades later, they finally had a name – Linda Sue Karnes.
“A lot of the family members that we’ve spoken to, they hadn’t seen Linda in a long time before she went missing,” said Elkins.
However, now that they have this name, Elkins is optimistic they’ll be able to find the person responsible for her death.
“I’m confident it’s those leads and those pieces of the puzzle that the public will give us that will ultimately lead to us solving this case,” he said.
Elkins said since they announced the news, they’ve had an influx of people reach out with information about Linda.
Othram Inc. said they are working with the TBI and other law enforcement agencies to identify more people in cold cases here in Middle Tennessee.
Since the lab launched, they have identified more than 1,200 people across the country.
You can read more on all of the people they’ve helped identify here.