A human femur bone found near the mouth of the Eel River near Fortuna, California, in June 2019, has been positively identified as belonging to Sheila Franks, who went missing in early 2014, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to Dateline.
Sheila was 37 years old when she vanished on February 2, 2014, just days after another woman, Danielle Bertolini, disappeared from the same area. Both women were previously featured in the Dateline series, “Missing in America.”
Danielle was last seen on February 9, 2014, outside of Fortuna, in the rural Swains Flat area near Highway 36. The 23-year-old was reportedly supposed to get a ride into town, but she never arrived. The man who officials say had picked Danielle up was also the last person seen with Sheila.
In 2015, Danielle’s skull was found by a man who had gone fishing on the Eel River, just upstream from Howe Creek, according to the Fortuna Police Department. The man who was reported to have been the last person seen with both women has previously been described by law enforcement officials as a "person of interest" in both cases. Officials have not revealed his name.
On June 10, 2019, a femur bone was found near the mouth of Eel River and delivered to the coroner’s office,” Lieutenant Sam Williams confirmed to Dateline in an email.
Investigators from the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office searched the area for additional remains, but none were located. The bone was examined by anthropologists and then sent to the DOJ Bureau of Forensic Services laboratory in Richmond, California for DNA testing. The sheriff’s office had previously secured DNA from Sheila’s family members which was used in the testing.
In September, the sheriff’s office received written notice from the DOJ that the bone was in fact a femur belonging to that of Sheila Franks,” Lt. Williams told Dateline.
“The cause and manner of death is undetermined at this time. The case is not labeled ‘Homicide,’ however, it is suspicious and is being investigated accordingly,” Williams said in his email to Dateline. “As to a ‘person of interest’ versus ‘suspect,’ no changes have been made to this point. The person of interest is the same in both cases.”
Lieutenant Williams told Dateline that both cases are open investigations.
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is the lead investigating agency on the Sheila Franks case and the Fortuna Police Department is the lead investigating agency on the Danielle Bertolini case. Both agencies continue to work closely together and share information, Williams said.
Family members of both women are very active on social media, working together on the Facebook page ‘Help Find Sheila Franks and Danielle Bertolini’ to find justice for the women and closure for their families.
Sheila’s sister, Melisa, shared a letter to Sheila on Facebook this month stating, “I am making this post with a heavy heart and tears rolling down my cheeks. I have decided to share this letter that I wrote to my sister Sheila with all of you that have taken the time to share my sister Sheila Sherrell Franks's story and for keeping her face in the media. My family Thanks each and everyone of you for the love and support that you have given us over the years. Love Melisa and Family♥”
If you have any information that can help in either Sheila Franks or Danielle Bertolini’s cases, call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department at (707) 445-7251 or the Fortuna Police Department at (707) 725-7550.