Human bones found 12 years ago near the Great Salt Lake have been identified as belonging to a 20-year-old woman, and police are investigating the case as a homicide, authorities said Tuesday.
The identification of Nikole Bakoles takes investigators a step forward in a mystery that began when duck hunters found bones on a road on October 2000.
Unified Police said Bakoles lived off and on in the Salt Lake City area for about three years, and that she also traveled in the northwest part of the country, including Washington state.
Investigators said they were able to identify Bakoles because they took DNA samples from her mother late last year, and they recently got the results. The hair samples also helped them determine her whereabouts, as well as rule out other missing persons as potential victims.
Bakoles was last seen in early 2000. She had recently lost custody of her baby daughter to the family of her boyfriend at the time, said Lt. Justin Hoyal, a spokesman for Unified Police. He said Bakoles' family didn't immediately report her missing.
"They thought she needed some space after losing her child," Hoyal said. He said they contacted police in 2003, after they had exhausted their search for her.
Hoyal said Bakoles' reaction to the news has been mixed.
"You know, they're excited that we've been able to match this up, but on the other hand it's also opened up a lot of questions," he said.
Police have not named a suspect in the case, and Hoyal said there's a lot that investigators still don't know.
"We're just starting this case basically brand new, fresh," Hoyal said.
He said authorities have been in contact with Bakoles' ex-boyfriend, Joel Chaudoin, who is in jail in Washington state on an unrelated case.
Police are not saying why they believe Bakoles was killed because it could compromise their investigation. They're urging anyone who knew Bakoles or her ex-boyfriend to come forward.