FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The Fresno State Forensic Anthropology Laboratory has been able to help solve the mystery behind a bag of bones found in Kings County.

Deputies said this case was different from what investigators say they are used to because the bones likely belonged to a Native American person who lived in the region hundreds of years ago.

Fresno State forensic anthropologist Dr. Chelsey Juarez helped the Kings County Sheriff’s Office estimate the time since death and the ancestry of bones that were found in a bag along a rural road.

“I’m really proud to be able to do this work for my community,” Dr. Juarez said. “To do the active casework, but also to think about all the people of the Central Valley holistically and not to leave anybody behind.”

After a dairy farmer found the bag of bones, officials say photographs of skeletal remains were sent to Dr. Juarez and she determined the remains to be historic indigenous/Native American remains – and not related to a crime.

Fresno State officials say Dr. Juarez also helped solve another case from 2020 in collaboration with the Madera County Sheriff’s Office resulting in a positive DNA identification and return of remains to a family on May 1. 

On May 1, a Madera County Sheriff’s detective and a forensic identification specialist returned the remains of Christine Lester, a 29-year-old Navajo woman, to her family in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Lester was positively identified through new forensic anthropology techniques and DNA technology in a collaboration between the Fresno State forensic lab and the Sheriff’s Office. 

Officials say Lester was murdered in 1987 and was one of several unidentified bodies buried in a Madera County cemetery. Her body and another were exhumed with the hope of identifying the remains.

Lester was one of many Native American women, girls, and two-spirit people who go missing or are found murdered across the United States, Juarez said. 

“The Fresno State Forensic Anthropology Laboratory, along with our partners, commit ourselves to work in collaboration with our Native American and indigenous communities and all those who have missing family members,” Juarez said. “We commit to treat those in our care with love, respect, and cultural sensitivity, and to do everything that we can to identify those in our custody, and wherever possible to send them home to their families.”