Web site, DNA help ID body of teen-ager

Web site, DNA help ID body of teen-ager

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX) - February 12, 2005
Author: BEN TINSLEY, Star-Telegram Staff Writer

When Florella Bashaw saw two lawmen walking to her door Wednesday in Elk City, Okla., she knew why they were there. The bullet-riddled body found nearly three decades ago in Denton County was her daughter's. The long wait was over.

"I had been really, really hoping that wasn't why they were here," Bashaw said in a phone interview, taking a deep breath. "I was hoping that some day, we could be together again. It was not satisfying."

On Tuesday, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office positively identified the body of Melva Lynn Hudgens of Elk City. She had been classified as a Jane Doe after the body was found in April 1978 in a creek bed on Farm Road 156 north of Krum.

The 18-year-old high school senior had been shot seven times, officials said.

Because her body had not been identified, authorities buried Hudgens in a pauper's grave in Oakwood Cemetery in Denton.

Through the years, Bashaw refused to let the investigation die. In September 2003, she persuaded local sheriff's deputies to reopen the case. The original case folder was lost, so they started a new one, said Undersheriff Donnie Smith of the Beckham County Sheriff's Office, which serves Elk City.

At Bashaw's request, officers also put information on the Web site www.doenetwork.us , a volunteer group that helps law enforcement agencies solve cold cases involving missing people and unidentified victims.

That was the turning point.

Last October, Don Britt and Allen Gibson, investigators with the Denton County Sheriff's Department, learned of the Web site through a newspaper article about a Washington State Patrol detective who solved an 11-year-old missing-person case using the Web site.

"If it wasn't for this site, I would never have known who she is," Britt said.

Gibson and Britt, who had reopened the case four years ago, combed through the site until they found information that pointed to Hudgens.

Britt contacted the Beckham County Sheriff's Office. Hudgens' mother and sister looked at photographs taken when the body was found and believed that they had found Hudgens. Britt then requested DNA testing.

Forensic identification was completed Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Smith and Britt went to Bashaw's home to tell her.

"She didn't break down, but you could tell she was upset," Smith said. "At the same time, it looked like it gave her relief -- because she had been searching nearly 30 years."

According to the Web site information submitted by Beckham County officials, Hudgens was traveling with two friends on U.S. 66 in Oklahoma and had car trouble. Hudgens accepted a ride to town from two men in a green vehicle with Missouri license plates. The friends stayed behind, the Web site said.

At a news conference Friday in Denton, Britt said that having an identification could be the break they need to solve the slaying.

"This is a 27-year-old case, but it's a brand new investigation now and we're approaching it from that standpoint," he said.

Hudgens' mother, meanwhile, is hoping that media attention will help turn up more information about what happened to her daughter.

Bashaw remembers her daughter as a creative young woman who made her own clothes and wanted to become a dressmaker.

"She must have got that from me because I made her clothes when she was little," Bashaw said. "I still have all the ribbons she won."

ONLINE: the Doe Network , www.doenetwork.org

Ben Tinsley, (817) 685-3821 btinsley@star-telegram.com