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Detective work, DNA technology crack cold case in Steuben County

STEUBEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) — Technology that wasn’t available 20 years ago helped crack the 20-year-old case of a woman’s body found in a Steuben County field, but it wasn’t an easy process.

Detectives had to jump through all kinds of hoops to positively identify the remains.

“Definitely a relief that we finally got Tina identified,” Steuben County Detective Chris Emerick says.

For Emerick, identifying Tina Cabanaw was a long and arduous process.

After Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs helped crack the April Tinsley case, he got a fresh DNA sample from one of the bones kept as evidence, and got the Steuben County council to spend $6,000 for DNA testing.

He ultimately got names for a few fifth or sixth cousins who gave him names of other family members.

“I luckily made contact with a female in Georgia who happened to remember coming up missing in the late 90s, she thought from the Detroit area. So she did some checking for me with relatives and came up with a name out of the Michigan area,” he says.

That turned out to be Tina Cabanaw’s sister, who was able to give Emerick a first name of Tina’s daughter who had lived in Colorado at one point. That’s it. But he found her.

“Pretty quickly she determined that yes, this was probably her mom and that she’d been looking for her for the last 20 years. Had hired some people on the internet to search for her, the family in Detroit had hired a private investigator, actually, and they’d never been able to find her,” Emerick says.

Police in Colorado got a DNA sample from the daughter that found she was a 99.9% match to the remains.

So who was Tina Cabanaw?

Detectives learned she’d struggled with drug addictions, especially that summer of ’99.

They hope that lead will help them figure out how and why she died because the autopsy was inconclusive.

The daughter has already flown here to meet Emerick, see where her mother was found, and visit her grave.

If you have any information about Tina Cabanaw or her death, Steuben County police want to hear from you.

You can call the tip line at (260) 668-4646.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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