TORONTO — Ontario Provincial Police have cracked a decades-old cold case and identified a woman who was found dead in eastern Ontario 48 years ago, thanks to technology that uses DNA to find genetic matches.
Police say the woman, who was found dead east of Ottawa in 1975, has been identified as Jewell Parchman Langford.
Her identity was established with help from a lab in the United States that specializes in forensic genealogy, in what OPP said was the first use in Canada of such technology to identify a victim.
Rodney Nichols, an 81-year-old man who resides in Hollywood, Fla., has been charged with murder, OPP said.
"While the charge was formally laid before the court late last year, at the Ontario Court of Justice in L'Orignal, the OPP did not announce this publicly at the time," police said.
"Prematurely sharing developments in the investigation could have jeopardized the investigation and ensuing court processes, including potential extradition from the United States."
Court documents obtained by the Canadian Press show that Nichols was charged in September with murdering Langford between April 22 and May 3, 1975.
The remains of the victim were found on May 3, 1975, floating in the Nation River, a short distance from the Highway 417 bridge near Casselman, Ont., and the unidentified woman was known for decades as the "Nation River Lady."
Det.-Insp. Daniel Nadeau said the 48-year-old woman was a well-known member of the business community in Jackson, Tenn., who co-owned a spa with her ex-husband.
He said she had travelled to Montreal in April 1975 and never returned home.
"At that time, her family in Tennessee had reported her missing," he said.
"While I cannot get into the specifics that will be entered at trial, I can tell you that the accused and the victim were known to each other."
Nadeau said police have tried to identify the victim over the years using different methods, including creating a 3D facial approximation of her in 2017, but had no success.
He said the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto obtained a new DNA profile of the victim in 2019.
Nadeau said the DNA data was sent to a lab in California where the DNA samples matched those collected from two individuals listed in a family DNA tree.
The DNA Doe Project, an organization that works to identify victims in cold cases, said the woman was identified after OPP contacted them for help on the case in 2019.
The organization said a DNA profile for the victim was uploaded to genetic genealogy databases in 2020 and its team of volunteers identified Langford as a likely candidate within a few weeks.
Ontario Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer said the DNA profile was used to help establish possible connections between the victim and others.
Huyer said DNA samples were then obtained from the surviving relatives of Langford, including her nieces.
"That information was brought back to the Center of Forensic Science in Ontario and identification was confirmed through that DNA comparison work that was done," he said.
"This was a long, ongoing process, never stopping."
Police say Langford's remains were repatriated to the United States in March of 2022 and a memorial service and burial were held for her.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.
The Canadian Press