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Texas Authorities Identify 2013 Jane Doe Cold Case As Black Teen Missing Since 2000

Authorities say Sylvia Nicole Smith was considered a runaway after she disappeared from Midland, Texas in 2000. More than 13 years later, partial remains were discovered by workers in the oilfields of western Texas that have since turned out to be her. 

A photo of a Texas Oilfield Wellsite

A Jane Doe found in the oil fields of western Texas has been identified as a teen who police determined ran away from home more than 22 years ago.

The Texas Department of Safety announced Monday that, thanks to advanced DNA analysis, they have learned the identity of a young woman whose partial remains were found in Midland County in 2013. Officials say the remains belong to Sylvia Nicole Smith, a Black girl who disappeared at age 16 in February 2000.

Although officials did not release a cause of death, a murder investigation is underway.

Smith was last seen by her mother on Valentine’s Day in 2000, according to the DPS. The mother filed a report with the Midland County Sheriff’s Office four days later, and Smith was listed as a runaway.

Prior to Smith’s disappearance, she had attended Lee High School and worked at a Golden Corral in town, according to Midland Crime Stoppers. There are otherwise few public details about Smith or her disappearance.

Smith’s then-unidentified remains were found by oilfield well site surveyors near South County Road 1160 and FM 1213, south of Midland on Aug. 1, 2013, according to the DPS. Authorities didn’t say for how long they believed Smith had been dead by the time she was discovered.

The Midland-Odessa area is known for a string of disappearances dating back to 1980, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, though whether or not they’re connected to one another remains unknown.

An anthropology report was created by experts at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, revealing that the Midland Jane Doe was a female between 14 and 21 years old. Despite the young woman's DNA being submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) on multiple occasions, her identity remained a mystery for nearly a decade.

In 2020, investigators brought in the Midland County District Attorney’s Office and The Texas Rangers. Together, they “looked for additional means to identify the remains” and called on Parabon Nanolabs to help generate a composite of the victim. They determined that Jane Doe was a Black girl and conducted genetic genealogy testing, which led investigators to a distant relative.

“Rangers have interviewed numerous potential relatives to gather family information, and in May 2022, information led to the victim’s mother in the Midland area,” according to the DPS. “In speaking with the mother, she stated one of her daughters — Sylvia Nicole Smith — had been missing since 2000.”

Further DNA testing by relatives concluded on June 9, confirming that Jane Doe was, in fact, Smith.

“The Rangers are now conducting a homicide investigation into her death and ask anyone with information into her disappearance or homicide to come forward with information,” the release stated.

Cash rewards are available to anyone with viable information. Tipsters - who can remain anonymous - are asked to call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477) or the Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website or by calling the Missing Person Hotline at 1-800-346-3243.

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