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Body found in 1980 is identified
Photo reconstruction made from remains helped identify 19-year-old
Major Gerald Couch of Gainesville Police puts up a display at a news conference announcing the identity of skeletal remains found 30 years ago as those of Juanita Adams. - photo by Tom Reed

In the summer of 1978, Juanita Adams left the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to protest legislation going through Congress as part of the American Indian Movement.

She left Washington and ended up in Nashville, Tenn.

Police then believe she may have gotten a ride from a truck driver, who was going to take her home.

That was the last Adams' family had seen or heard from her until May 2010, when a series of events began to unfold, ultimately matching her with a woman's skeletal remains discovered in 1980 by the Hall County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office announced it had closed the 31-year-old cold case, one that had been strewn with clues, leads and composites but no solid answers.

"I don't know if you ever bring closure when (someone) loses a loved one ... but at least you can bring some peace (to the family)," said Gerald Couch, a former lieutenant and longtime investigator who recently joined the Gainesville Police Department as a major. "That's very rewarding."

On May 22, 1980, a survey crew working along the southbound lane of Ga. 365 (now Interstate 985) discovered Adams' remains, including a glass eye, near a former rest stop in South Hall. The remains were in the woods nearly half a mile south of the rest area.

"It was pouring rain that day," said Sarah Pickard, the Hall County detective who responded to the case.

She remembers finding evidence of a "significant head injury."

"It looked like there had been reconstruction in her face to form an eye socket," said Pickard, who later went to the FBI, retired in 2004 and has returned to live in Gainesville. "... There was a very small amount of tattered clothing, but other than that, there was nothing there to help identify this gal."

Authorities believed then - and have since confirmed - that Adams had a pre-existing injury.

During the investigation, conducted by the sheriff's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation,the body was determined to be that of an adult female.

Also, a small coral and turquoise ring was found underneath the body.

Medical examiners with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI conducted further examinations.

The case also drew the attention of the Washington, D.C-based Smithsonian Institution.

All the groups collaborated and concluded that the remains were that of a female likely 19 to 20 years old.

Adams, authorities later learned, was 19 at the time of her disappearance. She also had interracial skeletal features, they determined.

Hall County investigators conducted an exhaustive search for the manufacturer of the prosthetic eye, without success. Follow-up on missing person cases was also unsuccessful.

"No substantial leads were able to be developed and the case went unsolved," said Col. Jeff Strickland, sheriff's office spokesman.

Over the next 27 years, numerous investigators followed leads and several skeletal reconstruction composites were created and published.

In January 2007, Couch contacted Marla Lawson, a forensic artist with the GBI, about a new skeletal reconstruction.

An image of the completed reconstruction was placed on the GBI website and the Doe Network, as well as Couch's contact information.

On May 24, 2010, David Sanders of Boulder, Colo., contacted Couch and said that Roxanne Two Bulls of South Dakota had discovered the skeletal image and description of the remains on the GBI website, Strickland said.

The cousin alerted other family members, who collectively believed the image and description fit that of Adams.

Family members confirmed that Adams had severe head injuries from a car wreck and a prosthetic right eye and that she also wore a coral/turquoise ring. She also belonged to the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Couch began procedures to officially identify the human remains. He learned on March 21 that, after DNA testing, the remains were those of Adams.

The remains have been returned to the family and funeral services are scheduled for Saturday in Red Shirt, S.D.

Two Bulls, identified as the family spokeswoman, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

When Pickard heard the news, she was elated.

"I'm glad they finally know what happened to her," she said. "I wish that the capabilities of law enforcement had been developed to the point (in 1980) where we would have been able to let the family know sooner.

"It doesn't take away the hurt (the family) feels ... but it helps to know at least, finally, this is where she was (when she disappeared)," Pickard said.

"I wish that we could tell them who did this and ... why," she added.