YEMASSEE, S.C. (WSAV) — A woman that was found dead in a drainage ditch on May 24, 1995, has now been identified as a missing wife and mother of three.
It took more than 27 years to uncover Gonzalez’s identity, but now relatives can work towards closure for surviving family members.
“After more than 27 years we now have the name of the unidentified murder victim. She is identified as Maria Telles-Gonzalez,” said Retired Major and Cold Case Investigator, Bob Bromage.
Deputies launched an investigation after finding an unidentified deceased woman wearing only her underwear in a drainage ditch on Cotton Hall Road in Yemassee, S.C. in 1995.
Bromage says, “she was strangled and left in a pair of underwear.”
He added, “it was clear she was murdered somewhere else and dumped at that location. She had been dead, 24-36 hours, maybe more.”
After an autopsy was performed, pathologists deemed the woman’s death a homicide. She did not have any personal items that could help identify her so investigators relied on local media and forensic technologies to try and ID the woman. But, the case grew cold when these efforts were unsuccessful.
In 1999, the case was picked up by Sheriff Pj Tanner while the Sheriff’s Office was examining unsolved murders or cold cases.
Beaufort County Sheriff Pj Tanner told WSAV News 3 that, “this victim, 36 years old dumped on a wilderness road in Northern Beaufort County in a pair of underwear, dead. The family never reported her missing.”
Multiple attempts were made over the years to identify the woman with few of those attempts leading to evidence that would reveal her identity.
Initially, investigators created a DNA profile of the woman, uploaded the profile to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and compared it to other missing women with similar profiles, but none would match that of the unidentified victim.
In 2004, investigators would turn to Doe Network’s website. They found a listing of a missing person that shared similarities with the unidentified woman, but after speaking with the family of the missing woman on the Doe Network, SLED DNA analysts were able to exclude this woman as a match.
Police continued to work towards solving the case despite leads going dead once more.
Investigators then submitted the unidentified woman’s DNA for biogeographical analysis to help determine her ethnicity in 2007 so that police could narrow down the search. DNA Print Genomics helped reveal that people with similar DNA markers self-identified as South Asian, Hispanic and Middle Eastern.
The DNA evidence combined with the woman’s Leonisa brand of underwear, which was mostly sold in Latin American countries at the time, led investigators to the conclusion that she was most likely of Hispanic descent.
In another attempt to reveal the woman’s identity, a segment aired on Univision in 2010 after investigators requested more publicity on the case.
This would then lead detectives to the Nava family after a caller contacted investigators stating that the woman resembled his sister, Josefina Nava, who was originally from the Dominican Republic and disappeared in Italy in the early 1990s.
Nava’s mother and son provided DNA samples, but the evidence uncovered that the Nava family had no biological connection to the unidentified woman.
In 2020, detectives employed the assistance of Parabon Nanolabs. The unidentified woman’s DNA extract was sent to Parabon, analyzed with its advanced technology, then uploaded to several ancestry databases.
After a volunteer member of the cold case committee took over the research of the case, hundreds of possible family members were contacted and in October of this year, that volunteer received a lead on a possible biological son of the victim. After he agreed to submit his DNA profile, a parent-child match between the unidentified woman and her son was made.
Family members say that 36-year-old Maria Telles-Gonzales was a wife and mother of three children. They last saw their loved one at her Merrimack Drive home in Kissimmee, Florida. She had left home, without her vehicle, once all of her children were in school and never returned following a trip to Puerto Rico.
Investigators are now trying to uncover what led to Maria’s death. Police are working to identify two people that were closely connected to Maria. One of those people is a close friend who may have been named Patricia and a male friend/boyfriend that remains unidentified.
Although they are not officially suspected in the death, police believe that the two could possibly have answers on what led up to that day. Both are believed to have lived in the Kissimmee area, police said.
“This is an active murder investigation, but we have focus at this point and that’s a direction we didn’t have without her identity,” said Bromage.
Anyone with information about Maria Telles Gonzalez’s disappearance or murder is encouraged to call cold case investigator Robert Bromage at 843-816-8013 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.