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Human remains identified nearly 36 years after Montana bear hunter found them

Sheriff's investigators still don't know who killed Janet Lee Lucas or how the young Washington state mother ended up so far away from home.

Human remains found in Montana nearly 36 years ago have been identified as a young Washington state mother, authorities said.

Janet Lee Lucas, born in October 1960, had only been known as “Christy Crystal Creek” since a bear hunter came across her skeletal remains on Sept. 9, 1985, the Missoula County Sheriff's Department announced.

The woman had been shot in the head with a .32-caliber handgun, sheriff's spokeswoman Jeanette Smith said Tuesday.

Janet Lee Lucas.Missoula County Sheriff's Office

Lucas' death remained a mystery until recent DNA advancements finally linked the skeleton to Lucas' family and then to the missing Spokane woman, sheriff's officials said.

“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,” her family said in a statement released by the sheriff’s office. “However, she never spent one moment without being loved. Janet had a contagious smile, warm personality and wore her heart on her sleeve.”

She was last seen in the summer of 1983 in Sandpoint, Idaho, about 200 miles away from where her body was found.

Lucas had no known address in Montana, and cold case detectives hope someone in Missoula might have known or seen her in town in 1983 or 1984.

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

Detectives are looking at any possible connections between Lucas and suspected serial killer Wayne Nance and the remains of a woman linked to Nance, dubbed "Debbie Deer Creek."

Nance, killed in 1986 while committing a home invasion robbery, lived in Missoula, and "Debbie Deer Creek," later identified as Marcella Cheri "Marci" Bachmann, was found nearby.

Bachmann was killed with a .22-caliber handgun, according to Smith.

Lucas grew up in California and Washington, had seven siblings and a 5-year-old son when she disappeared.

“We cannot rest on our success of having finally identified Janet. We must now seek justice for Janet,” Conway added.

Sheriff T.J. McDermott thanked the Lucas family, his cold case unit, state investigators, the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, the FBI forensic genetic genealogy unit and Texas-based Othram DNA laboratory for their help.

"It truly was a team effort that required the assistance and cooperation of a number of agencies and people to bring some closure to the Lucas family,” according to Sheriff McDermott.