In 2008, members of Tulsan Francine Frost’s family submitted DNA samples to authorities in the hope that putting the information into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System — NamUs — would lead them to their loved one, who at that time had been missing for nearly three decades.
Five years later, the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office entered information about an unidentified woman who had been shot to death in January 1983 into the same database.
Authorities had determined long ago that the woman, who was reduced to a skeleton by the time they found her body, had been shot multiple times, but they had been unable to identify her.
But in late 2014, Frost’s grandson, who had researched on the NamUs database the case of the remains found in Muskogee County, called the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office — and took Angela Berg, the agency’s anthropologist who received the call, by surprise.
“He called me and said, ‘I think that person might be my grandma,’ ” Berg said after a news conference held Tuesday at Tulsa police headquarters.
That conversation was the catalyst that led to Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge’s announcement Monday that DNA from the skeletal remains matched the profile made with information from Frost’s family.
The grandson “described two articles of clothing. It wasn’t just her clothing. It was her normal behaviors. I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of interesting.’ I got his phone number, hung up and immediately called (Tulsa Police Detective) Margaret (Loveall).”
Loveall oversees the Tulsa Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit and had been assigned the case of Frost’s disappearance. She said Frost’s grandson’s information led to the lengthy process of obtaining the required paperwork and court order to exhume the skeleton, which had been buried at the Green Hill Cemetery in Muskogee, on Aug. 18, 2015, and send information to the University of North Texas for DNA analysis and profiling.
On Tuesday, the Tulsa Police Department held the news conference to say the agencies are now investigating Frost’s death as a homicide.
Muskogee County deputies had found the skeleton and some clothing in 1983 about six miles southeast of the town of Martin, between U.S. 64 and the Muskogee Turnpike, and the county buried it there after being unable to garner leads in the case.
“The location of a missing person’s remains is a very huge part of the investigation,” Loveall said. “It’s a very pivotal clue because it tells you something about the suspect. There’s a reason why the person’s remains end up where they end up.”
Frost, who was 44 when she disappeared, was last seen at the parking lot of the Skaggs Alpha Beta grocery store at 21st Street and Memorial Drive overnight Feb. 16, 1981. Tulsa World archives state that her husband, Malcolm Frost, called the police the next day to report her missing after finding her 1980 Buick Skylark in the parking lot with her key still in the driver’s door lock.
Loveall said an autopsy determined how Frost died but that it’s not yet clear whether she was killed in Muskogee County or Tulsa County. The Muskogee County case became more difficult to solve after a flood at its records building destroyed the majority of its files, which required investigators to recreate a lot of them from scratch, she said.
“The area where she was found is not a location that anyone would just be traveling to from point A to point B,” Loveall said. “It’s my personal opinion that this location is going to give us a lot about our suspect. We know where she was located. The bigger question is, ‘How did she get there?’ ”
Berg said more than 120 unidentified people are on the Medical Examiner’s Office’s books and that some of them have been there since 1976. She said one of her biggest jobs is identifying new bodies that come into the lab and that the office uses DNA analysis through a partnership with the University of North Texas as a last resort because of the time involved in compiling profiles.
“How did we ever do this before this database?” she asked. “You can see why someone would die in Muskogee County and the information would never make it to Tulsa, because those two agencies weren’t talking. It wasn’t done intentionally, but they just didn’t know.”
Mike Nance, NamUs regional systems administrator, said the Frost case is a prime example of what can happen when multiple agencies do their part to provide information that’s easily accessible via the database. He said technological advancements have improved different agencies’ ability to communicate with each other on cases such as Frost’s death, and he said he wants her family and others looking for missing loved ones to know they aren’t forgotten.
“As you can see, these types of investigations are multi-jurisdictional. They span multiple years and agencies and require a great deal of resources,” he said. “These resources were not available in the 1980s. At that time, law enforcement and medical examiners, their response was to take as much information as they could and then bury the remains. That was the case here.”
Loveall said the new information in the case has “started the investigation clock over again,” and she asks that anyone with information about Frost’s disappearance and death call police.
As for suspects, “no one is eliminated, and no one is specifically targeted,” she said. “It’s an open and clear investigation, and we’re going back and starting at stage one to reinterview people. We have not narrowed this investigation in any way.”