13 Unsolved: New DNA test by Othram Inc. could identify severed head of woman found at Lake Houston in 2018

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HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) — Lake Houston is the home of Roger Randall. For 33 years, he taught children and adults with disabilities how to water ski and boat with his company, Texas Adaptive Aquatics. Roger is proud of this lake and the people who use it.

“We get them out of their wheelchairs, get out there and have fun on the water,” Roger says as he unties the special boat with wide railings that allows wheelchair users to board. “Obviously we like to keep the lake clean.”

That’s why Roger organizes a major volunteer clean-up every year: the annual trash can. Nearly 300 adults and children come out to pick up litter that drifts along the shore or gets tangled among the debris in the rocks.

On March 24, 2018, they were doing just that when a woman and her daughter made a horrific discovery.

“We found her here,” Roger said, one hand pointing to the shallow rocky shore along the FM 1960 deck, his other hand still on the tiller. Our boat approaches the shore. “It was just a black trash bag.”

It was heavy – so heavy that the woman couldn’t lift it with the pliers she’d been using all morning picking up the trash. As she went to open the bag, she saw the hair.

Inside the bag was a woman’s head.

“She freaked out,” Roger said. “She was like, I’m out of here. She was traumatized. Jump on the boat and say take me back.”

“There was no physical evidence or anything in terms of clothing or anything like that that would help identify him,” Houston Police Detective Richard Rodriguez said. “According to the autopsy report, the head was hacked. It’s cartel style. I’m not saying that’s what it is, but that’s what you expect from cartels.”

Police released a sketch of the woman. She had dyed red hair, tattooed eyeliner, and possibly brown eyes.

Three months later, forensic investigators released another detail: She had a distinctive set of upturned or winged teeth that they said would have been noticeable to anyone who knew her. She was thought to be between 20 and 45, probably murdered a week before she was found.

Newly released sketch of a human head found in a trash bag near Lake Houston.

Investigators thought they would be inundated with calls. But only a few tips arrived. A caller said he saw a man in a battered teal pickup on the bridge and threw what looked like a trash bag on the rocks earlier in the week. The tip never came through.

“Someone is missing a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter – someone is missing someone and we have to find out who she is. Then we have to find out who made it,” says Roger.

The case is draw attention. Scientists at a private Houston-area lab just extracted DNA from a tooth of the mystery woman, Rodriguez told Eyewitness News. His genetic profile has been created and it is now in the hands of genealogist genealogists who are researching his family tree. The hope is to identify the woman in less than a year and reunite with her family.

This woman is one of 270,000 unsolved homicides in the United States. About 20,700 of them are here in Texas, according to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Now, a new bipartisan law co-sponsored by four Texas representatives gives families of cold case victims the right to formally request that a loved one’s case be reopened. But, there are technical details to note. Federal authorities must somehow be involved in the cold case for it to be reconsidered. Some local investigators fear they will be the ones answering all the calls.

“We just don’t have the resources,” Rodriguez says. “We don’t have the funding. We don’t have the manpower to physically process every case.”

Rodriguez says his investigators are already overloaded with cold cases who have legitimate leads. He is worried that they will have to take time off from these cases to review cases and do paperwork because of this new law. Often, federal authorities and local detectives work hand-in-hand on cold case investigations.

“If you can give me some money so I can do this (DNA) test, so I can get results, as opposed to, hey, that’s what we’re going to do, and that’s just a law that has no teeth though…we’ll see,” Rodriguez said.

We took these specific local authority concerns to several politicians involved in drafting the Homicide Victims Families Rights Bill and passed it. None of the lawmakers addressed these concerns.

Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA-15) who sponsored the original bill sent us a statement that said in part, “Far too many homicides in our country go unsolved, leaving families and devastated communities…I remain optimistic states will follow Congress lead and enact similar legislation to address the growing number of state homicides that also go unsolved each year.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who co-sponsored the bill, said in a statement, “This legislation will help ensure that federal law enforcement sometimes reviews decades-old cold cases and enforces the latest survey technologies and standards”.

This law may be of interest to you if your loved one disappeared or was murdered more than three years ago and the case is still unsolved. Over the next year, law enforcement agencies are expected to implement a system for you to submit your family member’s federal cold case for review. The investigators have six months to examine it, then they will decide whether or not to reopen the file.

As of now, there is no information on what it might cost to set up this program, or who pays for it.

As for this mysterious woman, the Feds and the HPD are working together on her case. His family does not yet know his tragic end. They may not even know she’s dead. But, says Roger, she has it – and it will keep pushing.

“One of these days we’re going to find out,” he said. “I have her sketch on my computer. I see it every day. We have to find out who she is. We have to start there.”

We repeatedly reached out to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29) who also co-sponsored the bill, but neither could take the time to an interview due to scheduling conflicts. Neither provided comment for this story.

For more updates on unsolved cases, follow Courtney Fischer on Facebook, Twitter and instagram.

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