VIRGINIA (WFXR) — Lara Newell is the Long Term Unidentified Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health. Her job is to investigate all of the cases in the Commonwealth of Virginia that have been unidentified for a long amount of time, which is relative.
“It could be two weeks because there’s no movement on the case, we don’t have any further information, or it could be that they get referred to me after two months, um, once all of the investigative leads have been kind of looked at and closed on law enforcement side, ” said Lara Newell.
Most of the cases referred to Newell have no presumed identity. It is her job is to figure out who a person is and restore their name.
“A majority of my cases unfortunately are skeletal remains found in some sort of area where there is no information about who they might be. You have someone who is found in a house you can look up who owns this house, who pays rent on this house, who owns the car in the driveway, who’s getting mail here. You have those avenues you can look at. The woods you can look at who owns the land, but a lot of times, you know, some of them are body dumps and there’s no relationship between the person who owns the land and the remains that are found. We stop receiving information that can forward the investigation. We run out of leads. We run out of ways to get the person identified and then they come to me,” said Newell.
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), there are currently 200 unidentified persons in Virginia. Newell has entered in information for every person. That information includes the date and location of where the body or remains were found, the demographics, details of recovery, physical description (if available), clothing (if available), and accessories (if available).
“To me, one is one too many unidentified people. I am a firm believer that everyone should have their name. When someone is referred to me it hurts a little, you know, that they have gone through this, that they are dead. In whatever manner of death they experienced, they did it without someone knowing their name. There could be family who is out there looking for this person and they don’t know they’re deceased and I think that part of my job is to be the person that cares about all these people. Um, You know, you have the public who will see a case ‘Oh, unidentified remains found.’ Six months later they’re never identified and they kind of fall by the wayside, but I look at them every day. This is my job.” said Newell.
WFXR News decided to speak with Newell and learn about her work after reading the NamUs report about the child’s remains being found in a wooded area in the Iron Ridge area of Carroll County.
They were found in a trash can back in Sept 2022.
According to Alvin “Wayne” Bowman, they were found not far from where his son, Logan Bowman went missing.
“He lived on Fries Road there. So, I thought well, might be his, but we don’t know yet. So, we have to wait and find out. We ain’t going to say,” said Bowman
Bowman last saw his five-year-old while dropping him off with his mother, Cynthia Davis on Christmas Day 2002. Logan was reported missing from Galax the next month, Jan. 2003.
“He was a good kid. He didn’t get in trouble, but he loved school, loved going to church, and I had him in church all the time,” said Bowman.
Bowman said he’s hoping the remains found belong to Logan, “So I can get it over with. So, I can have my proper burial. We got a little headstone up there at church for him. It’s got his picture in it.”
According to online court records, Cynthia Davis entered a guilty plea in Grayson County Circuit Court for two counts of child neglect and one count of homicide. Those records show that she was sentenced to 10 years for each count of child neglect with those sentences suspended and 30 years for homicide with 15 years suspended. Court records also show charges were filed against her then-boyfriend, but later dismissed. Logan’s body was never found.
“They have to answer to God, not me. You have to forgive them. That’s one thing you have to learn to do,” said Bowman.
Bowman said he still remembers the day Logan was born. He was so small he had to buy him cabbage patch clothes. “When he was born, he only weighed 3 pounds 14 ounces. He was a preemie.
In an email on Tuesday, Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan writes the quote:
We have been working with Sheriff Kevin Kemp and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office regarding the unidentified human remains. Unfortunately, we don’t have any new developments to report currently. Carroll County Investigators are awaiting on additional DNA testing being conducted by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.
Everyone involved in this case hopes to have a positive identification on the human remains soon.”Richard A. Vaughan
Grayson County Sheriff
For now, Logan’s name sits among a long list of missing persons in Virginia. There are 335 people whose families don’t know where they are or if they’re even alive.
WFXR News asked Newell if some of those cases could be overlapping with her unidentified persons’ cases.
She said, “They absolutely could be overlapping. The issue is that sometimes the medical examiner is able to get information that they don’t have on the missing person’s side.”
Newell later went on to explain that there could be a lack of dental x-rays or fingerprints or no family to compare DNA. That’s why she works tirelessly to give the people in her care their names back.
It’s important to note that anyone can access NamUs. Some missing persons reports have been uploaded by loved ones, not law enforcement. A person simply has to create an account, which is free.