Good afternoon, NABURs! We at the Montrose Daily Press are happy to report that Montrose County Sheriff's Office investigators, the Montrose County Coroner's Office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation have, through forensic genetic genealogy, identified the remains once known as Windy Point Jane Doe as Susan E. Hoppes, 45, of Washington State.

Ms. Hoppes was reported missing Aug. 9, 1993. Her bones were found here, off Divide Road, on July 7, 1994. 

You can find our full story, with information about how it all went down here, but I wanted to say a few more words.

First, this is a human being, who is loved and missed by others. Her case has profoundly affected people I know (investigators, coroners) and people who I do not know (family and friends). My thoughts are with everyone who is grieving Ms. Hoppes and I share investigators' hopes for justice. Rest in peace, Susan.

Also, the news comes from years of work and persistence by investigators and Dr. Thomas Canfield, now our coroner.

The skinny: The Montrose County Sheriff’s Office in 2020 asked to submit DNA samples to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for a forensic genetic genealogy — a.k.a. familial matches through commercial genealogy sites. In 2021, CBI also added the “Windy Point” case to a list of about 100 in the state that it would prepare samples from and submit. Just recently, the “Windy Point Jane” DNA matched to a family member of Ms. Hoppes and additional comparisons confirmed the ID.

It was, as Sheriff Gene Lillard said, a “shot in the dark” that paid off.

There are also important takeaways. For one, the investigation is not over. It’s just entered a new chapter as the MCSO works with authorities in Washington — and a committed private investigator who kept the case alive there — to find out how Ms. Hoppes wound up dead in Colorado and who might be responsible.

Also, the MCSO has routinely and repeatedly checked other databases for missing persons matches. In this particular case, the missing persons report for Ms. Hoppes that was made in 1993 to Washington authorities was somehow cleared from the books there in 1994, based on what Lillard has learned so far. And although Washington entered Ms. Hoppes into a national missing persons database, the details we were able to find in that listing were slim: they did not include some important physical characteristics that might have linked her to Windy Point sooner.

Because I have reported this story off and on over the years, the person I knew as “Windy Point Jane” is often on my mind. She was on my mind enough that, when I began making new inquiries and receiving tips in April, I started poking around. To be clear, by the time I started this, the CBI had already secured a DNA match and informed the MCSO. I did not personally “identify” her; I just followed the leads I had to a likely name, which proved correct after I learned she might have been identified. (Family was still being notified, so authorities could not confirm the name at the time of my initial inquiries.)

It’s been a ride and I can only begin to imagine the roller coaster detectives, coroners, and others have been on between 1994 and today. I never expected “Windy Point Jane” to be identified, barring a confession from someone who might have been with her. I hadn’t reckoned on newer DNA research.

Forensic genetic genealogy has its critics, however. While few people are likely to be concerned about Aunt Hilda sending her DNA to GEDMatch or the like in order to find out more about her ancestry, the growing use of such sites by law enforcement agencies has raised privacy concerns.

As in: Maybe Aunt Hilda consented to her DNA being put in a database, but if a familial DNA match turns up at, say, a crime scene, did that person consent to being part of a database? Or does it matter?

Should police be allowed to just go spelunking through any and all databases in hopes of matching samples to crime scenes? Responses run the gamut, from “Why not? It solves crimes,” to complaints of Orwellian tactics.

What do you think?