A body discovered in an open field in 1979 near what is today a busy intersection of the Las Vegas Strip has been identified as a teenager from Ohio who had left home that year in search of her biological father, authorities announced Tuesday.
She was 19-year-old Gwenn Marie Story, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. For 44 years, she was known only as “Sahara Sue Doe,” nicknamed for the intersection where she was found.
Police said Tuesday that advancements in DNA testing led to the identification last month.
According to police, a man discovered the body on the night of Aug. 14, 1979, while walking through a vacant lot near the northern edge of the Las Vegas Strip. She had wavy hair, and her fingernails and toenails were painted red.
Today, the nearby Strat Hotel looms large over that intersection, which features the Sahara hotel-casino.
Authorities believe the victim had died within 24 hours prior to the discovery, according to an entry detailing the case in a database maintained by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
An autopsy revealed that she had been the victim of a homicide, police said, but investigators weren’t able to identify her until they partnered with a private DNA testing laboratory last September.
Othram, which specializes in forensic genealogy analysis, said in a statement Tuesday that the victim was wearing Levi’s jeans and a linen shirt that had a tie-up bottom and red floral embroidery with sequins.
“She was also wearing several pieces of jewelry including a white metal chain with clear plastic heart pendant with a rose painted on it, a white metal chain with a pendant containing a turquoise-colored stone, and a white metal plain ring worn on the right hand,” Othram said.
Othram said that its scientists built “a comprehensive DNA profile for the woman,” leading authorities to possible relatives who provided DNA samples that confirmed “Sahara Sue Doe” was the missing Ohio teen.
Story’s relatives told police that she left home in Cincinnati in the summer of 1979, in search of her father in California. They said she traveled with two male friends. Story’s family never heard from her again.
When the two friends returned to the Cincinnati area in August that year – the same month that Story was found dead – they told the teen’s family that they had left her in Las Vegas, police said.
The police department says it is now turning its focus to those two friends and how Story wound up dead near the Las Vegas Strip.
The breakthrough in Story’s case comes amid advancements in genetic testing that in recent years have led to more identifications and arrests in long-unsolved cases – from missing persons and homicide investigations to sexual assault cases.
Earlier this year, Othram also helped Nevada State Police identify a victim who was nameless for 45 years after her heavily decayed remains were found in a garment bag in a remote area of northern Nevada in October 1978, less than a year before Story was found dead in Las Vegas. The victim in that case, Florence Charleston, also went missing from Ohio.
Anyone with information about Gwenn Story or the two males she traveled to Las Vegas with is urged to contact the Las Vegas Homicide Section by phone at 702-828-3521, or by email at email@example.com. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 702-385-5555, or on the internet at www.crimestoppersofnv.com.