Florida investigators identify victim 41 years later through DNA

SPRING HILL, Fla. — Florida investigators announced Wednesday that they have been able to identify a victim from 41 years ago through DNA.

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The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office in a news release said that one of the two remaining unidentified victims of a serial killer has been identified. Her name is Theresa Carolina Fillingim. She was the third body out of four that was found in April 1981.

HCSO said that the first two victims were immediately identified when they were discovered. Back in 1981, DNA was sent to multiple labs but it was unsuccessful as DNA testing was just taking off.

In 2020, HCSO said a sample of the remains was sent to the University of North Texas, which completed a DNA profile and entered it into the national database. However, no matches turned up.

According to the Associated Press, HCSO worked with the University of North Texas and Parabon Nano Labs which is a DNA technology company that specializes in DNA phenotyping. DNA phentotyping is “predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.” DNA phenotyping has become a major way for investigators to solve cold cases such as this one, starting with the Golden State Killer case.

HCSO used Parabon’s “Snapshot DNA Phenotyping” methods to create a description for the victim.

“Using DNA evidence from this investigation, Snapshot produced trait predictions for the associated victim. Individual predictions were made for the victim’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape. Parabon’s research developed a profile that was utilized in the identification of the victim in this case,” HCSO said in a news release. HCSO was able to learn that the remains belonged to Fillingim through this process.

Fillingim’s sister reported her missing to the Tampa Police Department on May 16, 1980, and her remains were found almost a year later on April 3, 1981. According to the AP, she was a week away from her 17th birthday when she was reported missing.

Fillingim was a victim of serial killer Billy Mansfield Jr. It was at his property where the four set of remains were recovered, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Mansfield has already been charged with other crimes including battery, kidnapping and sexual assault when he met Rene Sailing at a tavern in California on December 6, 1980. Her body that was found in a ditch the following morning and he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. TBT said that he was convicted of strangling and raping Sailing after a mistrial and a prison escape attempt.

According to the AP, Mansfield, now 66, pleaded guilty to killing all four women and attempted battery of another woman. He is currently imprisoned for life in California.

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