HAMILTON, Ohio — Exactly four years after three teenagers discovered human remains in West Chester Township, the Butler County Coroner and police released the identity of the woman who was found dead.
The remains are those of 61-year-old Darlene Wilson Norcross, who lived alone, police said during a news conference Thursday. They do not know how she died.
On March 7, 2015, 13-year-old Parker Wilhelm and a group of his friends initially mistook Norcross's remains for an abandoned Halloween decoration. He doesn't remember, he said Thursday, whether he tripped over a piece of the body or other debris near it while walking in the woods near Gregory Creek Lane.
He remembers the smell, which prompted his group to call the police.
"This was an actual life," he said Thursday. "An actual person. She had friends and family. It stuck with me for a while and still does.”
West Chester police and coroner Lisa Mannix responded to the scene.
“We knew we had a female,” Mannix said. “She had no identification on her and so we continued to the process of trying to identify her.”
A forensic artist created a facial reconstruction several months later to show what the woman might have looked like, but police didn’t receive any tips leading to an ID.
Mannix said unique dental implants were a focus of the investigation early on in the identification process.
“We actually surveyed over 260 dentists throughout the nation to say, ‘Hey, do you think you might have put these implants in someone who looks like this artist’s rendition?’ That again brought back no leads,” she said.
Investigators in West Chester Township and Butler County worked with agencies across the country to establish DNA profiles; the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the FBI and University of North Texas. Information gathered was used to create a profile for the former Jane Doe.
The coroner’s office began working the DNA Doe Project in October, 2018. The project uses DNA to help identify persons who are found deceased but cannot be identified through an existing database. Through the DNA Doe Project, Mannix said the investigators determined a 'presumptive identification' that led them to family members, and her dental work again became a focal point.
“Once we had a name, a presumptive name, then we were able to re-pursue local dentists regarding the dental work because that was so unique,” Mannix explained.
Police said Norcross had been married and lived on the east coast. She moved to West Chester Township after a divorce and had no children. She was never reported missing.
“This case in particular reminds us that people can become so isolated and it is important to stay in touch with relatives and to stay in touch with friends — to look after each other,” said Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a forensic anthropologist who worked on the case.
The family of Darlene Norcross issued the following statement and asked for privacy:
"After years of effort by various agencies, Darlene Norcross has been reunited with her family. We would like to thank the Butler County Coroner’s Office, and the West Chester Police Department for their tireless and valuable work in bringing closure to our family. Without them, this day would not have come."
West Chester Township police Det. David Tivin added the web of ties now connecting West Chester police, the DNA Doe Project, the FBI and more could help authorities identify other bodies in the future.
“It’s brought together the medical examiners, academia, police investigators, uses of new technology," he said. "We have a new approach to cases like this now. We have more tools in the toolbox we’re aware of. Without Miss Norcross, we wouldn’t have that.”
Police said Norcross’ death remains an open investigation because the cause and manner of death remain undetermined. Anyone with information about Norcross, her disappearance or how she died is asked to contact the West Chester Police Department at 513-777-2231, or email the Butler County Coroner’s office at CoronerTips@butlercountyohio.org.