Nearly 10 years after an unidentified body was found in a field near the dead end of Quincy Drive in December 2005, the woman was identified last month as Latasha La Shelle Smith, Columbus authorities said Wednesday.
Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan, who assisted Columbus police in identifying the body on Feb. 17, said the 19-year-old woman was strangled before she was found Dec. 22, 2005, near the Interstate 185 underpass. The coroner said DNA evidence was used to positively identify Smith and her skeletal remains will be released to her family in Rialto, Calif., where she went missing on Dec. 1, 2005.
When her body was found, the condition prevented a positive identification. The body may have been disturbed by roaming dogs in the area. Months and years went by after police conducted interviews with no success in finding her identity. Police Sgt. Randy Long, a cold case investigator with Columbus police, is asking anyone with information on Smith’s murder or her activities in the city to call police.
Authorities believe Smith had been dead less than two days before her body was found, Police Lt. Greg Touchberry said in a release. When found, she was 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 108 pounds.
Her natural hair color was unknown at the time but a wig made of long straight black hair pulled into a ponytail was found near her body and may have belonged to her.
Smith had some scarring on her lower back, including five smaller oval shaped scars down the midline of her back.
A Columbus dentist and the coroner said the woman’s teeth were well kept and she had no signs of fillings or orthodontic work.
Dr. Steven Swords was among two Columbus medical professionals who assisted police in the case. He worked with the Georgia Board of Dentistry to perform a mass distribution of the woman’s dental records in an effort to identify her.
While DNA ultimately identified the missing woman, Swords said he’s proud to have helped. “I’m proud to be part of that,” Swords said Wednesday. “I did what I could. It’s awesome what they were able to do. I’m glad it wasn’t one of my female patients that’s gone through this.”
Police also identified the clothing worn by Smith. She was wearing a small Hillard & Hanson intimate leopard print corset bustier top with a black net style long sleeve shirt on top. She wore “Baby Phat” blue jeans and black socks.
On her index finger on her left hand, she wore a silver metal ring with two ovals. She had pale pink fingernails and her toenails had clear and white polish.
Anyone with information on the homicide investigation should call Long at 706-225-4260 or the Robbery-Assault Unit at 706-653-3400.