Melody Day has had to live without the guidance and love of her mother for more than 25 years. And today, she's continuing to push for answers.
"You only get one mom, you can never get another," Melody told Dateline. "So you better respect and love her. That's why I'm doing whatever I can to bring her home."
Now, those answers may be closer than ever but one main hurdle remains. While strong circumstantial evidence suggests remains in a box labeled "Jane Doe" may be those of Melody's mother Cynthia Louise Day, there is no absolute proof they belong to the distinguished blonde with a warm smile.
Attempts to identify the bones, years before DNA testing was widely available, destroyed any tissue that could have been compared to her daughters for a positive identification, an issue that has grown ever more frustrating for Cynthia's loved ones.
"We are sure it's my mother, it's Cynthia. But if it's not, it's still someone's loved one. They are missing them and have no answers," Melody told Dateline.
Cynthia Louise Day has been missing since August 10, 1990. She lived with her longtime boyfriend in National City, Illinois. That afternoon, Melody and her younger sister Kimberly visited their mother. With them, they brought Kimberly's newborn son, Cynthia's first grandson.
"She was just so excited about meeting him," Melody remembers. "We brought that little baby over and she showed him off to everyone, all the neighbors."
The women also discussed something that was weighing heavily on Cynthia's mind. Her seven-year relationship with her boyfriend had reportedly gone sour. She confided in her daughters that she was planning to leave him. Cynthia had been having some troubles with drug and alcohol abuse, and the girls thought the relationship inflamed that.
Their hope was in the coming weeks, their mother would soon be happy again.
But several days after Cynthia doted on her grandson, she disappeared. Her daughters went to see her days later, but found no signs of Cynthia or her boyfriend, and their belongings were also missing.
Melody says she saw the boyfriend weeks later, and he told her he had no idea where Cynthia was. Then, just like Cynthia, he vanished.
Red flags quickly popped up for Cynthia's daughters, who called the East St. Louis Police and reported their mother missing. Years ticked on and Cynthia's grandchildren heard about their grandmother only through stories shared by their mothers.
Each time an unidentified body made the nightly news, Melody phoned the corresponding police department to inquire if it could be her mother. Each time, it was not her.
Little to their knowledge, just two weeks after Cynthia vanished, the decomposing remains of an unidentified woman were discovered at the bottom of a ravine just off Highway 79 in Pike County, Missouri. The cause of death was homicide, blunt force trauma to the head, but there was nothing linking the woman to any missing persons cases in the area.
Attempts were made to identity the woman. The bones were sent to the Colorado Forensic Science Lab for a facial reconstruction photo to be created and other testing to be done. Technicians at the lab also boiled her bones, something that was reportedly common practice in the time before widely used DNA testing, officials have said.
Both sides of the possible puzzle soon went cold.
Fourteen years later, in 2004, Melody discovered that an official report regarding her mother's disappearance had never been filed. It was then Melody decided it was up to her to investigate. She started a website, sharing stories, photos, and information about Cynthia.
It was on that website an anonymous tip was left regarding the box of bones found in Pike County.
There were too many similarities for Melody to ignore, she's adamant the remains are her mother's'. "The woman's reproductive organs were missing, my mother had a full hysterectomy. There were breaks in the pelvis. My mother broke her pelvis giving birth to me and again slipping on ice years later," Melody said. "It has to be her. It's the best lead we've ever gotten."
As of 2012, the remains reside at the University of North Texas, where officials had hoped something could be done to extract DNA to compare to samples from the Day family. But that has not been done.
In another twist, Cynthia's boyfriend was located in a California prison. He reportedly told a deputy who went to speak with him that he has no idea what happened to Cynthia. He's since been paroled. "Our family knows something is up with his story, but what can we prove? Nothing," said Melody in frustration. "We are now just focused on brining her home."
When asked if she hopes justice can be found in her mother's case, Melody says she's simply focused on getting her mother home.
If the remains in the box are indeed Cynthia's, they cannot be released to the family until a positive ID is made. Melody's goal is to make that happen as soon as possible.
"They aren't being as cooperative as you'd think they would be regarding this," Melody said. "I just want her home with us."
If you have any information regarding Cynthia's disappearance, you're asked to contact the Illinois State Police at (800) 842-5763.