HAMMOND | Bones found buried on the site of a former bait and tackle shop have been identified as Francine Carlson, who was 38 when she was reported missing in 1999, Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said.
Her remains were discovered Oct. 5 at the site of the demolished shop, 1718 Indianapolis Blvd., after a Rottweiler found a finger bone with a ring on it and brought it back to his owners.
Two days later, Stephen Nawrocki, a forensic anthropologist and professor of biology and anthropology at the University of Indianapolis, along with a team of four graduate students, supervised the exhumation of her remains, which they analyzed.
During the police investigation, several people came forward and alerted authorities of loved ones listed missing in Lake County.
"Hammond detectives narrowed down possible leads to the identity of the remains and ended up collecting a DNA sample from Carlson's son," Miller said.
His DNA matched the DNA extracted from the bones. The woman's family was notified Tuesday night that the DNA was a match, Miller said.
Her cause of death is undetermined, and no one has been charged in connection with her disappearance.
"There are persons of interest," Miller said. "We are not calling anyone a suspect at this moment."
Carlson originally was from Chicago but was living in the Whiting-Robertsdale area at the time of her disappearance.
Her live-in friend told police Carlson left their home in the 1600 block of Sheridan Avenue about 6 p.m. March 22, 1999. She was wearing black jeans and a black leather jacket at the time, according to a Whiting police report filed June 7, 1999.
"(Complainant) stated that she has been missing in the past but has not gone for (an) extended period of time without calling," the police report states.
Whiting Detective Capt. John Sotello, who followed Carlson's case since 1999, was surprised the remains were identified as Carlson.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "It's been 12 years, and I never would've thought they would've found her like that."
Sotello said he and other veteran Whiting officers were familiar with Carlson because they arrested her several times.
"She was a very, very nice person, in general, when she was sober," he said.
But alcohol was her demon, Sotello said.
It was common for her to disappear for a month at a time, but when she didn't return after more than two months and her roommate reported it to police, they labeled her "missing."
"I kept her in the system as a missing person," Sotello said.
He kept in touch with her family over the years, and any time an unidentified body was found, Sotello looked into it to see if it could be Carlson.
Miller said Carlson was known to frequent bars in the North Hammond/Whiting area. Anyone who knew her around the time she disappeared is asked to call Hammond Detective Sgt. Ken Stump or Detective Lt. Tom Fulk at (219) 852-2906.