Local woman missing since 1980s identified in cold case death investigation in Illinois

TROY — DNA and genealogy technology used to identify the woman in the Miami County case known as the Buckskin Girl in 2017 was credited with identifying the remains of a missing woman from Miami County in the 1980s whose remains were found in Illinois.

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Brenda S. Black had been missing since the early 1980s when she last had contact with her family. Because of news coverage on the Buckskin Girl case, and additional use of DNA, Black was officially identified in a cold case death investigation in Will County, Illinois from 1981, Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said in a media release.

Brenda’s brother, Allie, approached the Miami County Sheriff’s Office in 2015 after watching news coverage on the Buckskin Girl, thinking she might be his missing sister. Allie submitted a DNA test to compare against the DNA profile of the Buckskin Girl, Duchak said.

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The DNA testing later ruled out Brenda Black as the Buckskin Girl. In 2017, Marcia King of Little Rock, Arkansas was officially identified as the Buckskin Girl and was the first known case in the nation that successfully used forensic genealogy, Duchak said.

The DNA sample submitted by Allie Black was entered into the Combined DNA Index System. His sample would remain in the database if a sample of Brenda’s DNA was ever entered into the system, Duchak said.

The cold case in Illinois stemmed from human remains found in April 1981 on Interstate 80 in New Lenox, which is about 40 miles south of downtown Chicago. Investigators found skeletal remains, however the cause of death was not clear based on the examination of the remains. Investigators later estimated the woman died about one year before the discovery of the remains.

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In 2021, the Will County, Illinois Coroner’s Office sent samples of the unidentified female from the 1981 death investigation to the Othram Laboratory in Texas for full genome sequencing and forensic genealogy testing.

“The case was investigated over the years and many missing women were eliminated by DNA comparisons. The case eventually went cold,” Duchak said.

The lab’s work led to some investigative leads for the Miami County Sheriff’s Office on the missing person case of Brenda Black, Duchak said. The Will County Coroner’s Office would later obtain a DNA sample from Brenda’s daughter which led to confirming the skeletal remains were those of Brenda Black.

Law enforcement in Illinois are continuing to investigate the death of Brenda Black.

“The Miami County Sheriff’s Office urges the public to report missing persons and to provide DNA samples to aid law enforcement to find missing family members,” Duchak said.

If you have any details that could help investigators in the death investigation of Brenda Black, you’re asked to contact Miami County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Steve Lord at 937-440-3980.

We’ll update this story as we learn more.

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