Woman's tattoo photos help area deputy solve sad mystery

Published: Feb. 7, 2019 at 12:08 AM CST
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Social media, tattoos, and a Navarro County deputy who went the extra mile are being credited with helping identify the remains of a missing Houston woman who was listed as a 'Jane Doe' for a week after her body was dumped on the side of a rural road.

"I knew she had to be missing from somewhere," said Sgt. Brandon Bates with the Navarro County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Division.

Bates was one of the first on-scene Dec. 12 when a passerby spotted a dead body close to a duck hunting camp on SE 1190A near Richland, about a mile away from a rest stop off I-45.

"We thought she might be a trucker or a transient at first, she was wearing coveralls which isn't uncommon for truck drivers," said Bates.

Beneath the beige coveralls were layers of clothing which, along with recent rain, had helped preserve parts of her body from weather and wildlife.

"She was on her back kind of sprawled out," said Bates. "She blended in pretty good with the foliage."

Long weeds pulled from the ground were found on top of her body, covering it and making it harder to see from the road, Bates said.

She had a phone case but no phone, some jewelry, and cash in her jeans, according to the final autopsy which also stated her head and neck were skeletonized.

"We really didn't have anywhere to go other than knowing that we had skeletal remains, a human body," said Sheriff Elmer Tanner.

In crime scene photos, her hands and long fingernails, painted red with glitter, appeared well in-tact.

Originally, NCSO officials believed they could identify the body through fingerprinting, however, the prints came back with no criminal history.

"There was some issues with fingerprints and some of the things you would normally use to identify a person," said Tanner.

With no fingerprint match, no wallet or identification, and no obvious answers, NCSO detectives started calling neighboring counties to see if the body fit any of their homicide or missing persons cases and then put out a teletype to every law enforcement region in Texas, both to no avail.

"We were basically at the situation of: we need a break in the case," said Tanner.

That break came at the hands of Bates who, on his day off at home, started searching for clues on Facebook by typing-in "missing persons."

After tediously scouring through missing persons pages from all over the country, after two-to-three hours, Bates said he came across one out of the Houston area: it only had a few thousand likes, but he clicked on it.

People posting on the page were friends of Charine Young; when Bates clicked on her profile and started going through her photos, he saw something that caught his eye.

"They were not very common, they were going to be specific to her," said Bates.

The deputy recognized several of the woman's tattoos from what was left on the body of their Jane Doe.

"First a star on her hip, then 'Colby' written on her arm," said Bates. "I was like 'man, that's her!'"

Through matching the tattoos in the photos to the ones on the dead body, Navarro County officials positively identified the remains as those of Charine Wilson, who at the time of her death was using her maiden name Charine Young.

"Thank goodness she took a lot of pictures," said Bates. "We'd probably still be waiting on DNA."

An autopsy, ordered by Judge Connie Hickman, was performed Dec. 13, the day after the body was discovered and more than a month after Wilson went missing from her estranged husband's Houston apartment on Nov. 10.

The report concluded the 29-year-old's death was a homicide; she was shot twice - in the head and chest - and by a small caliber gun.

"The Houston PD had already identified a suspect, and the Houston PD had actually issued a warrant for that suspect's arrest," said Tanner.

That suspect, Johnny Leon Wilson, 48, was arrested in Las Vegas by U.S. Marshals last week; officials said he was staying at a hotel under a fake name.

Wilson remained in the Clark County Jail Wednesday.

According to the Clark County District Attorney's Office, Wilson waived his right to extradition during a hearing Monday morning, and from that date, had 30 days to be transported back to Texas.

Tanner said they would help Houston PD in anyway they could for justice to be served.

He praised Bates' detective work in identifying Charine and hoped it would bring some closure to her family and friends.

"He really pushed the envelope there in trying to get this person identified," said Tanner.

Charine had a son and was recently promoted to manager at the Walmart store where she worked.