DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham police have confirmed that skeletal remains found inside a storage unit in 2016 are those of a North Dakota woman who was last seen in Durham in 2005. Police are investigating her death as a homicide.
The skeletal remains were identified as Melissa Ann Poitra through advanced forensic testing, which was recently completed, police said Wednesday.
On Oct. 22, 2016, Durham police officers were called to a self-storage facility located at 1725 Carpenter Fletcher Rd. in reference to possible human remains.
The caller told officers they were cleaning out the storage unit when they noticed a plastic storage container with a bone sticking out. The caller told officers the storage unit was being cleaned out after the death of the person who had been renting the unit.
The skeletal remains were sent to the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for an autopsy.
The OMCE was able to collect DNA and worked with the University of North Texas to develop a DNA profile from the skeletal remains.
The Jane Doe DNA profile was entered into the national Combined DNA Index System in February 2017.
In 2018, the Durham Police Department and the OCME sent the skull from the skeletal remains of Jane Doe to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to perform facial reconstruction.
The FBI was able to provide Durham police with a possible image of Jane Doe.
Durham police say the image was released to the media in hopes of identifying Jane Doe, but investigators say they did not receive any viable leads.
In 2020, the Jane Doe case was entered into the national Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which is a database designed to coordinate efforts between law enforcement agencies to share information about violent crimes, missing persons and unidentified remains.
In 2020, Durham police investigators reached out to Othram Lab in Texas to see about conducting more advanced forensic DNA testing.
According to Durham police, Othram is a forensics laboratory that builds profiles that can be used to identify victims or suspects and specializes in challenging evidence in-house from DNA extraction and enrichment, to sequencing and genealogy.
While investigators were looking into an unrelated case in the fall of 2020, they learned that Melissa Poitra had not been in contact with her family for many years after leaving North Dakota.
Melissa Ann Poitra was last known to have been seen in Durham in late 2005.
Investigators worked with the Poitra family to obtain DNA samples from family members of Melissa Poitra.
On April 23, an independent company, DNA Solutions, confirmed that the DNA samples for the Poitra family members were a match to the Jane Doe DNA profile and that the skeletal remains were of Melissa Ann Poitra.
In 2005, Melissa Poitra would have been 28 years old.
She was a Native American woman from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa located in North Dakota.
She had straight black hair, brown eyes and a tattoo of a rose and a tattoo of “Missy” on her arms. She was known to frequent the East Durham area. She was also a mother.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help bring her remains back to North Dakota.
The cause of death has not been determined, but it is being investigated as a homicide.
Anyone with information is asked to call Lt. Vaughan at (919) 560-4440, ext. 29334 or Sgt. Tait at (919) 560-4440, ext. 29326.