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Genealogy Helps Identify Murder Victim Who Disappeared in 1981

Theresa Caroline Fillingim
Theresa Caroline Fillingim, who was 16 years old at the time, was reported missing to the Tampa Police Department by her sister Margaret Johns on May 16, 1980. Fillingim’s remains were recovered from the Mansfield property on April 3, 1981.

TAMPA, FL – The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office has identified one of the two remaining unidentified victims in a Mansfield investigation from 1981. According to authorities, in March and April of 1981, four sets of human remains were recovered from the Mansfield property located in Hernando County. Two of the victims were immediately identified. The other two victims remained unidentified until now, where one of the victims has recently been positively identified.

Hernando investigators have recently sought the services of the University of North Texas and Parabon Nano Labs (Parabon), a DNA technology company in Virginia. Parabon specializes in DNA phenotyping which is the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office worked with the University of North Texas and Parabon for this investigation. Law enforcement agencies use the company’s Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service (Snapshot) to narrow the suspect/victim list and generate leads in criminal investigations.

DNA evidence from the unidentified victims’ were submitted to Parabon to generate actionable leads for this cold case. The human remains that were collected in 1981 were sent to several labs in an attempt to develop a DNA profile; however this was unsuccessful.


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In 2020, a sample of the remains was sent to the University of North Texas where a complete DNA profile was developed and subsequently entered into the national database. A search of that database was unsuccessful.

However, the complete DNA profile was reviewed, and it was determined that a sufficient DNA sample of the unidentified victim existed for further testing.

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 investigators were able to follow up on the lead and have been able to determine that Theresa Caroline Fillingim was one of the unidentified victims in this cold case investigation. Fillingim, who was 16 years old at the time, was reported missing to the Tampa Police Department by her sister Margaret Johns on May 16, 1980. Fillingim’s remains were recovered from the Mansfield property on April 3, 1981.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the University of North Texas, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, Kelsee Hentschel Fey with the Forensic Anthropology Department of University of South Florida, N.A.M.U.S., the Fifth District Medical Examiner’s Office, Cape Coral Police Department, Longmont Police Department in Colorado, Tampa Police Department, and Parabon for their assistance in identifying Theresa Fillingim and bringing peace to the victim’s family.

The Sheriff’s Office will continue to use evolving technology and investigative techniques as appropriate to help solve violent crimes.


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