RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WACH) - Richland County investigators say a recent break in a more than decade-old murder is bringing them a step closer to cracking the case.
In March 1999, deputies found a woman's burned body in a shed off Percival Road in northeast Richland County. But, until last month no one knew who the woman was.
The family of 40-year-old Janice Gilchrist-Evans orginally reported her missing in April 2001. Evans was last seen alive in Columbia on March 22, 1999. She was found dead a week later.
In May of this year, the victim's family contacted the Richland County coroner's office and informed officials they believed Evans actually went missing in 1999. The mother of six was transient at the time and her family said it was common for her to go long stretches of time without contacting them.
The coroner's office obtained DNA from the family, thinking there may be a link to the body found more than 12 years ago. That move helped them positively identify the victim and provide the family some degree of closure.
"The family now can have some peace," said the victim's aunt, Almastine Butler. "But, the main issue is we would like to know who caused this."
Richland County investigators are working on that issue. The victim's identity was a key missing piece of the puzzle. Since learning who she is, Sheriff Leon Lott says authorities have been able to develop a timeline, track down several leads. However, they are not saying what that information is.
"The person or persons responsible for her death know what occurred," said Lott. "We do too. So that's what we're going to look for."
With the victim's identity unknown for so long, how Janice Gilchrist-Evans ended up in that wooded area is still very much a mystery. But, it's one a family will never forget about after ten years of questions about a beloved mother.
"She was a very sweet person, easy-going. A lovely person," said the victim's aunt.
While the family clings to the one part of this long-standing mystery that has been cleared up, investigators are vowing to never give up on the case.
Sheriff Lott says, in the near future, billboards with information about the crime will be going up around Richland County to remind the community about the case. Authorities are confident someone knows exactly what happened all those years ago.
"It may be tomorrow, it may be 12 years from now, we don't know when it's going to be. But, we'll never forget," said Lott. "We're never going to stop working on this case because we're going to bring closure."
If you know anything about the case you are urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.