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Lost and Found - Victim ID’d after 39 years


It was not your typical missing person’s report. This person had been missing for 39 years. 

Deoina Mitchell had always wanted to know what happened to her mom who had vanished in 1983 when she was just a toddler. Yearning for answers, Mitchell went to the Kansas City Police Department in Missouri this summer and filed a missing person’s report.

Despite the fact that nearly four decades had passed, Detective Nathan Kinate (on right in photo) was determined to do everything in his power to help this earnest young woman. Working 12-hour days, he exhausted all available resources, conducted searches, interviewed family and friends. But there was little new information about her whereabouts, so he requested assistance from Intelligence Analyst Darin Lee (on left in photo) who joined the investigation.

What happened next was nothing short of miraculous.

One day, Mitchell showed the officers an Olan Mills photograph of her mother. Lee took one look at the face in the photograph and knew he had seen her before.

"I'm a face person," Lee said, "and I specifically remembered it."

What Lee remembered was something he’d seen five years earlier: a facial reconstruction created by a forensic artist at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. (NCMEC) A Clay County Sheriff's detective had been working on a cold case stemming from bones found in 1985. Lee sensed a match.


Senior Forensic Artist Joe Mullins does facial reconstruction of what the homicide victim may have looked like 39 years ago.

"Her eyes were very distinct," Kinate said in an interview with his police department. "Her jawline was distinct. We were in awe."

Kinate contacted the Sheriff's Office and together decided to run tests using DNA from the bones and a sample from Mitchell. It was a match. Her name was Gwendolyn Robinson. Gwendolyn was 19 when she was killed.

 "It was hard for her to hear," Kinate recalled telling Mitchell. "The one saving grace," he told her, "was that your mother didn't leave you. She was taken from you."

The Clay County Sheriff's Office is now investigating her death as a homicide. 

“It’s a relief to finally have her identified, which we hope will generate more information,” said Clay County Sgt. Chris Johnson. “We need that to put together 40 years of history, but we welcome the challenge.”

What Lee recognized was the face that NCMEC Senior Forensic Artist Joe Mullins had created digitally on his computer in 2016 using a CT-scan of the woman's skull. Mullins, of course, had no idea what she looked like, but he was able to recreate what she may have looked like in life based on the uniqueness of her skull.

Joe Mullins working on skull reconstruction at NCMEC headquarters in Alexandria, VA.

Mullins, a forensic artist at NCMEC for 23 years, has done hundreds of skull reconstructions both digitally and using clay. He was astounded, and delighted, that Lee had recognized Robinson from the reconstruction the analyst had seen five years before.

"It was a sense of wow, excitement," said Mullins. "That's the whole point of everything we create. We're trying to elicit that spark. The fact that he was able to articulate the details of the face that helped spark the recognition, it was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment."

If you have any information about this case, please contact the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in Missouri at 1-816-474-TIPS (1-816-474-8477) or NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678.)

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