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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
Crime & Courts

Missing Lakeland woman linked to skeletal remains


A Texas university has linked skeletal remains found last fall in Lakeland to a woman reported missing in 2012 through DNA testing.

The University of North Texas returned DNA test results on Wednesday that confirms the skeletal remains found Sept. 17 in Lakeland match 35-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rhodes of 712 East Garden St.

About 8:55 a.m. that day, a witness looking for scrap metal on North Wabash Avenue, between Memorial Boulevard and Crutchfield Road, found a human skull and some bones, according to the sheriff’s office. The witness reported the find to the sheriff’s office.

The bones were taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office, and at that time it appeared the bones were those of an adult black female, the sheriff’s office said.

The following is a timeline of events in the investigation:

* March 27, 2012 – Rhodes’ mother is admitted to a hospital and Mary Rhodes visits her on or around this date.

* April 29, 2012 – Rhodes’ sister, Larfay Copeland, reports her sister missing to Lakeland police. She is told to have their parents make a report.

* May 7, 2012 – Laurette Rhodes, Mary Rhodes’ mother, and James Pearson report Rhodes missing to police.

* Sept. 17 – Skeletal remains are found in a wooded area off of North Wabash. The Polk sheriff releases the information to the media.

* Sept. 19 – An osteological exam determines the remains are those of a black adult female, 30 to 40 years old.

* Sept. 23 – A section of bone is sent to the University of North Texas for DNA analysis.

* Sept. 24 – Due to media coverage of skeletal remains, Larfay Copeland contacts the sheriff’s office in reference to her missing sister.

* Jan. 22 – Lakeland police enter Mary Rhodes as a missing person into the Florida Crime Information Center and National Crime Information Center systems.

* Wednesday – The university reports a positive DNA match in the Combined DNA Index System between the skeletal remains and Rhodes.

If anyone has information about the Rhodes’ case is asked to call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS (8477). Tipsters will be eligible for a cash reward.

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