Authorities trying methods other than DNA to identify remains found in the Heights

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Authorities trying methods other than DNA to identify remains found in the Heights. (KTRK)

Forensic scientists may be able to use circumstantial evidence to officially identity remains found in the walls of a Heights home and finally close the case of the missing Mary Cerruti.

Dr. Sharon Derrick, a forensic anthropologist with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, said the state of the remains made it difficult to identify them. They were found badly decomposed with only glasses and shoes intact.

"This has been a complex identification," Derrick said. "This was likely a white female who was at over the age of 40 years. There is osteoarthritis and some reduction of bone density."

Harris County sent a DNA sample from the remains to a lab in North Texas. A few of Mary Cerruti's cousins sent DNA to compare, but those results were unable to confirm the identity of the body.

"(Cousins) are farther removed. The farther removed you get the less chance of you are going to be able to make a statistically valid comparison," Derrick said.

Parents, children and siblings are better for DNA comparisons, but Mary had no living close relatives.

"At this point, DNA may not be something we can use for her," Derrick said.

The medical examiner's office is considering the use circumstantial evidence to officially identify the remains as Mary. Authorities believe the remains are indeed hers, but they've yet to exhaust all methods of identification.

That decision is currently under review.

Mary's case is not alone. There are a dozen cases of unidentified remains in Harris County in just the last two years.

It can be difficult detective work, but Derrick said she believes everyone deserves the dignity of having their name on their gravestone. She said help from the public has already brought closure for many of these cases.

"We have made several identifications probe very old cases from the 80s and 70s through members of the public and been able to notify families many years after they had given up," she said.

If you have a tip that may help solve an unidentified body case you can call the medical examiner's office at (832) 927-5000.

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