Remains in California are Navajo woman missing from northern Arizona since 1987

May 3, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

(Facebook Photo/Madera County Sheriff's Office)...

(Facebook Photo/Madera County Sheriff's Office)

(Facebook Photo/Madera County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX (AP) — Human remains that had been buried for decades in a California gravesite and marked as “Jane Doe” have been identified as a Navajo woman who went missing from northern Arizona, authorities said.

The Madera County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t publicly disclosed the cause of death for Christine Lester because it doesn’t want to jeopardize the investigation, Phoenix television station KTVK reported Wednesday.

Officials with the sheriff’s office near Fresno said a woman was found dead on the side of a rural county road in 1987 but couldn’t identify her at the time. The body was exhumed in 2020 to create a DNA profile that authorities were able to match to one Lesters siblings earlier this year.

Lester’s family received the remains Monday. Her siblings plan a procession Friday to escort the remains from Flagstaff to a family gravesite on the Navajo Nation, where a memorial service will be held — 36 years to the date she went missing and on a day that’s designated to raise awareness of missing and slain Indigenous people around the globe.

The then-24-year-old Lester told her family that she was planning to hitchhike — a common practice on the Navajo Nation — from Indian Wells to the Flagstaff mall in May 1987 to buy gifts for Mother’s Day. They don’t know if she made it there, her siblings said.

“We’ve always had that hope that she’ll come through that door and introduce her family,” a brother, Herbert Rockwell, told KTVK.

Lester’s siblings said they’ve cherished the good memories they had with her when she was alive.

“I’d just like to say ‘Welcome home, Christine, Shadi, which means big sister,’” Rockwell said.

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Remains in California are Navajo woman missing from northern Arizona since 1987