Known to the public as “Christy Crystal Creek,” the previously unidentified woman may be the victim of a Montana serial killer

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janet lucas
Janet Lucas
| Credit: Missoula County Sheriff's Office

The skeletal remains of a woman have been matched to a missing person more than 35 years after they were found, reviving old questions about how she was killed.

A bear hunter discovered the remains near Crystal Creek, Mont., in the summer of 1985, and when a forensic examination failed to identify who they belonged to, the Jane Doe was given the name "Christy Crystal Creek."

Now, thanks to advanced DNA testing and intensive genealogy research, the Missoula County Sheriff's Office has confirmed Christy's identity as Janet Lee Lucas, a young mother from Spokane, Wash., who vanished in 1983. She was 23.

In the decades since her remains were found, Missoula County detectives made multiple attempts to uncover Lucas' identity. They worked with a variety of forensic experts to examine the remains and spent hours scanning missing persons databases in the U.S. and Canada, turning up no leads.

This year, Missoula County's Cold Case Unit received state funding to partner with private technology company Othram Inc. for further research, which helped launch a forensic genetic genealogy investigation. Weeks of family tree analyses, interviews and DNA testing of relatives led to an identification of Lucas, says the Sheriff's Office.

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Lucas' family released a statement Monday that reads: "After decades of missing Janet, our family is broken hearted to learn that she was tragically taken, unidentified and spent a large amount of years alone. However, she never spent one moment without being loved. Janet had a contagious smile, warm personality and wore her heart on her sleeve."

Lucas grew up in California and Washington with seven brothers and sisters. She had a 5-year-old son at the time of her disappearance and would be a grandmother of four had she lived to the present day.

"We cannot rest on our success of having finally identified Janet. We must now seek justice for Janet," stated Detective Captain Dave Conway in the release.

Even before Lucas' identity was known, there was speculation that she may be a victim of alleged serial killer Wayne Nance — also known as the Missoula Mauler — because her cause of death was similar to those of other bodies found nearby, according to the sheriff's office. Nance is suspected of killing at least six people in Montana in the '70s and '80s, but he was reportedly shot and killed in 1986 after one of his victims fought back, so he was never charged with murder, reports the Billings Gazette.

"Our focus has changed from 'who is Christy Crystal Creek?' to 'what happened to Janet Lucas?'" said Conway. "This is now a cold case homicide investigation and we need your help."