Authorities have finally identified a woman whose severed head was found in a southern Illinois state park three decades ago.
The remains belong to Susan Lund, according to police. The 25-year-old mother of three was last seen on Christmas Eve in 1992 when she reportedly left her family home in Clarksville, Tennessee to walk to a local grocery store. She vanished without a trace and was never seen again.
"Her family never stopped looking for her," Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard said at a news conference.
Bullard declined to provide additional details on the case, noting it is an active and open homicide investigation.
Lund's disappearance triggered a multi-agency search that lasted several months. But with no leads and no signs of evidence leading to Lund, the official missing persons case was close.
Meantime, on January 27, 1993, a woman's decapitated head was located on the side of a wooded roadway in Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park, roughly three hours from Lund's hometown.
Officials estimated the woman was between 30 and 50 at the time of her death, which likely happened two to three days earlier. She was described as having long, reddish hair and a pin-shaped mole in her left ear. Police said she had extensive dental work, including a silver point filling, and she had possibly worn braces at some point. She also had skeletal asymmetry that may have been visible in her facial features, police said, and a condition that may have caused her head to have a sideways tilt during life.
Despite the specific physical features, authorities still could not identify the woman.
The remains were logged as "Ina Jane Doe" as Lund's case went cold. For nearly 30 years, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office investigated the homicide and worked to identify the woman.
In February 2021, Dr. Amy Michael, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Hampshire, offered to reexamine the case. He developed a new forensic image of the woman and sent samples from the remains to a laboratory in California to create a DNA profile.
"As forensic methods are updated and refined, it is critical to reevaluate cold cases and utilize new approaches, like forensic genetic genealogy, alongside anthropology to achieve identification," Michael said in a statement.
A DNA profile was provided to Redgrave Research Forensic Services, a genealogy company in Massachusetts, who then uploaded the data file to GEDmatch on February 3, 2022. Within a day of beginning to research the DNA matches, the team got a potential identification.
"The potential ID was passed to law enforcement who then followed up with family members of Susan Lund. A confirmatory DNA sample was provided by a sibling for direct comparison," the company said on Facebook. "On March 6, 2022 it was confirmed via one-to-one comparison that the identity of Ina Jane Doe is Susan Lund."
Sheriff Bullard said the "mission to find the truth of what happened to Susan" is only just beginning. While authorities continue to investigate, Lund's family feels fortunate to have a little bit of closure.
"I'm just speaking on behalf of her three children," Lund's sister, Pamela Reyes, told The Southern Illinoisan. "They just really want people to know that they're grateful to find out that they weren't abandoned by their mother. She didn't leave her kids, not willingly."