WHITLEY CITY — One question’s answer has left McCreary County law enforcement with many more to ask.
On Tuesday morning, Sheriff Gus Skinner confirmed to local media that remains found this spring in a remote area of eastern McCreary County have been identified as belonging to Crystal Marler, who was just 15 when she vanished from Whitley City in October 1998.
On the morning of April 25, a turkey hunter scouting the woods off Peel Dogwood Road found what appeared to be a human skull lying on the forest floor. The scene was secured by 8:20 a.m. with officials from the McCreary County Sheriff’s Office, McCreary County Coroner’s Office, Kentucky State Police, U.S. Forest Service, Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and State Medical Examiner’s Office conducting a two-day search to retrieve additional bones and other evidence.
The remains — tentatively identified as belonging to a teenage female — were turned over to State Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Emily Craig, who was able to determine a positive identification via DNA comparison with samples from Crystal’s relatives, Sheriff Skinner said.
Dr. Craig’s report also lists Crystal’s cause of death as gunshot wound and blunt force trauma.
That Crystal had met with foul play was something her family never doubted. She was last seen at approximately 4 p.m. on October 8, 1998, as her mother Abigail Marler dropped her off near a friend’s home on Strunk Ridge.
Though the family personally searched the county, Abigail Marler did not live long enough to know what happened to Crystal — dying in a June 2007 car accident.
Crystal’s remaining relatives had been in contact with authorities on Monday but learned of the positive identification with a formal visit from MCSO Detective David Sampson and McCreary Coroner Daniel Ridener Tuesday morning.
“I am at rest with it,” grandmother Sue Marler said. “The minute the body was found, I knew it was her.”
Lorella Wood, grandmother to Crystal’s half-brother Jonathan, recalled thinking the fall that Crystal disappeared that she would probably be found by deer hunters.
“That’s been 10 years ago,” Wood said. “I’m glad we finally found her.”
Both women expressed relief that their granddaughter can be finally laid to rest. More than five years ago, Abby’s coworkers raised money to put a memorial stone for Crystal in the family plot at Carter Cemetery in Marshes Siding. Wood said the family now expects Crystal’s remains to be released for burial late next week.
“I am glad we have been able to bring some closure to the Marler family after such a long period of not knowing what had happened to Crystal,” Sheriff Skinner stated. “I want to ensure the family and the public that we will continue to pursue this investigation with the highest priority. I would also like to thank all of the agencies assisting. Certainly the joint efforts with each of these agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have accelerated the results and assisted in reconstructing exactly what happened to Crystal.”
Who is responsible is now the question foremost on officers’ minds, as Crystal’s case is reclassified from “missing person” to “homicide.” The murder investigation is being led by Detective Sampson.
“We have received information in the past regarding Crystal in the Peel Dogwood community and have used cadaver dogs to assist in searches of the area but had not been successful,” Det. Sampson said. “It’s difficult when there is such a large, remote area to search.”
The girl’s remains were found scattered in a fairly concentrated area about 100 feet from a gravel Forest Service Road that is not unfamiliar to hunters. At the time of the discovery, Sheriff Skinner told the media that the body apparently decomposed on top of the ground. Though investigators had to clear away “several years worth of leaf litter,” they never had to dig below the soil.
An MCSO press release did not specify what all had been recovered from the scene but indicated that officers were following leads developed from that search.
“Evidence was located near Crystal’s remains and forensic examinations of this evidence are pending,” Det. Sampson stated. “We hope to derive additional information from this evidence but still ask the community to assist by providing any information they may have.”
The McCreary County Sheriff’s Office asks for anyone with information regarding this investigation to contact their office at (606) 376-2322 or (606) 376-UTIP (8847). Information can also be provided to 911 or to the Kentucky State Police at 1-800-222-5555 or (606) 878-6622.
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This page posted: July 28, 2009 // BMW