Remains found in Durham self-storage facility are those of woman missing since 2005

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A family is one step closer to closure.

After five years, bones mysteriously discovered at a Durham self-storage facility now have a name.

"Those remains have been identified as Melissa Ann Poitra," said Lt. Stephen Vaughan with the Durham Police Criminal Investigation Unit.

Melissa Poitra



Durham Police announced Wednesday that skeletal remains found were recently identified through advanced DNA testing as those of Poitra, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Poitra had been missing since 2005 and although she was from North Dakota, she was known to frequent the east Durham area, police said.

On Oct. 22, 2016, police were called out to Ample Storage at 1725 Carpenter Fletcher Road in south Durham after someone discovered the remains inside a self-storage unit.

"The caller told officers the storage unit was being cleaned out after the death of the person who had been renting the unit," said Sgt. Quincey Tait with the Durham Police Homicide Investigation.

The caller told police they noticed a plastic storage container with a bone sticking out of it.

After the remains were collected, they were sent to the medical examiner's office, where DNA was extracted and eventually entered into a national DNA database. However, the person's identity remained a mystery.

In 2018, Durham Police sent the skull to the FBI to perform facial reconstruction. The work produced a composite image of Durham's Jane Doe, which Durham Police made public. Unfortunately, police said they received "no viable leads" and the case remained a mystery.

In 2020, police made another effort, entering the case into ViCAP -- the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. Police also asked Othram Lab in Texas to see about conducting more advanced forensic DNA testing. Othram is a forensics laboratory that builds profiles that can be used to identify victims or suspects.

"It's not an easy process, it's not a very quick process, we have to do things in a certain manner, so it took a little bit of time because we had to go through a lot of different organizations to get to where we are now," Tait said.

WATCH: Durham Police discuss breakthroughs in case
EMBED More News Videos

Full media briefing: Durham Police discuss identification of human remains



While working on an unrelated case in the fall of 2020, police learned that Poitra, who was 28 in 2005, had been missing for many years after leaving North Dakota. Police contacted Poitra's family and obtained DNA samples. On April 23, a company called DNA Solutions confirmed independently that the Poitra family DNA samples matched the Jane Doe DNA profile.

The cause of death hasn't been established but police said the case is being investigated as a homicide.

Police would not say whether the renter who died was suspected of being involved in Poitra's disappearance or her death.

Poitra's remains are still at the state's medical examiner's office, but they will be soon headed back to North Dakota.

Her family has raised nearly 10,000 on GoFundMe to give her a proper memorial.

Anyone with information is asked to call DPD at (919) 560-4440, ext. 29334 or (919) 560-4440, ext. 29326. Police also urged people to leave anonymous tips by calling Crimestoppers at (919) 683-1200.

There's a cash reward for any tip leading to an arrest.

Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.