Melissa Ann Poitra

Durham police announced the skeletal remains found inside a storage unit in 2016 are those of a Native American woman last seen in Durham in 2005. 

The victim is Melissa Ann Poitra, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa located in North Dakota. 

Poitra, who was 28 in 2005, was identified through advanced forensic testing, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said in a press release.

She was known to frequent the East Durham area, police said. 

Investigators consider the case a homicide but have not yet determined the cause of death.

In October 2016, officers arrived at a self-storage facility on Carpenter Fletcher Road regarding a call about possible human remains. 

The 911 caller told officers they were cleaning out a storage unit when they noticed a plastic storage container with a bone sticking out. The caller told officers the storage unit was being cleaned out after the death of the person who had been renting the unit.

The remains were transported to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy. 

Pathologists then collected DNA from the remains and worked with the University of North Texas to develop a DNA profile. In 2018, the skull was sent to the FBI to perform facial reconstruction, which resulted in an image police circulated for help identifying the person.

“But investigators did not receive any viable leads,” Michael said in the release.

Last year, the case was entered into the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a national database designed to coordinate efforts between law enforcement agencies to share information about violent crimes, missing persons, and unidentified remains. 

Police also contacted Othram, a private lab in Texas, for more advanced forensic DNA testing. 

A break in the case came when police were investigating an unrelated case last fall and learned that Poitra had not been in contact with her family for many years after leaving North Dakota. Police later obtained DNA samples from Poitra’s family members, which matched Poitra’s DNA profile, Michael said.

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