Woman, refusing to give up on cold case, finds sister's remains 37 years later

New evidence in Charlotte's oldest cold case
Published: Feb. 7, 2013 at 9:14 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2013 at 9:41 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "She was just missing. She was just gone. And there was this vagueness about it like, so what do we do?"

Cathy Howe's older (and only) sister, Priscilla Blevins, walked out of her apartment on Tyvola Road in July of 1975.  That's the last anyone heard of the attractive, smart 27-year-old.

"There is a real vague sorrow that goes along with having a missing family member," says Cathy.  "It's almost indescribable."

With each passing year, the case got colder.  Cathy says her family tried everything.  They hired a private investigator and even at one point, a psychic.  Nothing turned up anything.  Decades went by.

In 2000, CMPD Detective Lee Tuttle was handed the cold case.  He tells WBTV there was virtually nothing to go on.  There were two pieces of paper in her entire case file, both on microfiche.  The apartments where Priscilla had lived had been torn down.  A few times over the course of years, Detective Tuttle would meet up with Cathy.  Then, in 2009, he had an idea.  Detective Tuttle met Cathy in a Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem (where she lived) to take a DNA sample from her cheek.  He told her he wanted to put it in the new FBI national DNA database.

Three years after giving him that DNA sample, Cathy got a phone call.  The day was October 18th, 2012.

"Detective Tuttle called me at 7:00 o'clock in the morning," she says.  "He said, 'Can I come see you?'  I was like, 'Sure'.  And he came and sat on my couch, looked right at me and said, 'We found Priscilla.'"

Detective Tuttle had found Priscilla's bones.  Way back in 1985, they'd been found in a heap right over the guardrail on the side of I-40 in Haywood County -- two-and-a-half hours from Charlotte.  With no way of identifying them, the bones were sent to the North Carolina Medical Examiners Office.  There they sat for 20+ years.  Wasn't until Cathy's DNA got in the system, that the big national database matched them together.

Kathy was overwhelmed.  In some sense, so was the Detective.

"It took my breath away," Tuttle said.  "It took a second to comprehend what this meant.  It was the first time for our department, and to this day the only time, we have ever got a connection in that big national DNA database."

Suddenly, the cold case became not quite as cold.  The discovery meant Priscilla was no longer a missing person -- she is now a death investigation.

It brings up a whole new load of questions.

"How did my sister get on the side of the road in Haywood County?", asks Cathy.  "How did she die?  Who killed her?"

Does Cathy think she'll get those answers someday?  She pauses before answering.

"I have hope," she says.  "I really do.  Keep the faith.  That's what I say.  37 years later we got a break, so, keep the faith!  It's free.  Faith is free."

If you have any information, please contact CMPD Detective Lee Tuttle directly at jtuttle@cmpd.org.  Or, email Anchor Molly Grantham at mgrantham@wbtv.com.  She can pass along Detective Tuttle's phone number.

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