Indiana State Police Sgt. Scott Jarvis is as surprised as anyone that not only are the remains of a woman’s body found in 1975 not Lula Gillespie-Miller, but that the now 69-year-old woman has been alive this whole time and living elsewhere under a new name.
“Initially it was disbelief,” Jarvis tells PEOPLE. “I was still convinced she was going to be the lady found in Richmond,” Indiana.
After uncovering the truth, and learning that no happy reunion is planned between Gillespie-Miller and her now-adult children, “it’s disappointing,” Jarvis said. “It was obviously a possibility that it might not be a happy ending.”
Gillespie-Miller disappeared from her Laurel, Indiana home in 1974, leaving behind her four young children to be raised by her former mother-in-law, her daughter, Tammy Miller, tells PEOPLE. They got a postcard from her in 1975 postmarked from Richmond but never heard from her again and believed a homicide victim discovered in a Richmond sewage pipe in 1975 was her body, Miller says.
Cop started working on case in 2014
After a 2014 tip from the Doe Network, an organization that works to identify missing and unidentified people, cold case investigator Jarvis began trying to determine if the Richmond body was Gillespie-Miller, he says.
The body was exhumed and remains were sent to forensic anthropologists and a specialty lab. While Jarvis was awaiting DNA results, he got a call in the fall of 2015 from another law enforcement agency that had heard about the exhumation “and suggested we look elsewhere,” Jarvis says.
That agency had only discovered relatively recently that the remains might be someone else; in fact the case remains open. “As soon as they thought that was a possibility, they contacted us,” Jarvis says, declining to name the agency or say what prompted their revelation due to, “trade secrets in the law enforcement community.”
Jarvis said he “tracked back a paper trail” of public records and within about three months learned that Gillespie-Miller, using a made-up name but her real birth city, mother’s maiden name and other details “that only she would know,” lived in Tennessee in the 1980s and then later in Texas, he says. He tracked her to a small town in south Texas, where she was using a different first name and her husband’s last name but on Thursday admitted she was Gillespie-Miller, he says.
The woman was not arrested, as she had committed no crime. “If someone wants to disappear, they’re allowed to do that,” he says. She did allow police to provide her contact information to her estranged daughter.
Gillespie-Miller’s mother died without knowing the truth
Miller, 45, called her mother on Friday but they had only a brief conversation that left Miller feeling hurt and rejected, knowing that her mother voluntarily chose to leave and never tried to contact her family again, she says.
Gillespie-Miller’s own mother, Emma, left a porch light on every night hoping her daughter would return, but she died in November 2015, “not ever knowing what happened to Lula,” Miller tells PEOPLE.
Jarvis says he wished for a happier outcome for Miller. Says Jarvis, “I hate it for Tammy.”