Chasing a ghost: Sisters’ DNA offers clue into sibling’s murder mystery in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s a mystery nearly 40 years in the making, a cold case that has frustrated detectives with the Tampa Police Department.

A young Tampa mom went missing in 1978, and for decades, no one knew what happened to Brenda Williams.

There was no sign of her anywhere. No clues, no answers, no leads. She vanished without a trace, leaving behind two young children and twelve siblings.

“I just can’t explain how hard it’s been. To not have a mom, it has been so painful,” said Orkya Andrews-Peace, one of Brenda’s daughters. “I was only six. It’s something that nobody can understand. I don’t think anybody can ever understand.”

Her family never stopped praying for answers and searching for the truth. Year after year, relatives combed through neighborhoods, searching faces, asking questions.

It just didn’t make sense to them. After all, their sister would not leave her babies behind. She loved them dearly. She loved her family. The 21-year-old mom never left for more than a day, family members tell us.

Relatives admit that while the young mom did have encounters with law enforcement as a young woman, she was always dedicated to her own children and their large family.

Then, as her life was seemingly going well, she vanished.

After decades doing their own detective work, Brenda’s sisters stumbled upon the truth in a moment of bittersweet serendipity. In 2016, forensic experts were holding a cold case seminar in Tampa where clay busts were created by artists – each one possibly holding a clue to crack that particular case.

Sharon Scott and Sheila Williams, Brenda’s sisters, had heard about the event on the news. As they stood inside, shoulder to shoulder with detectives, they held a picture of their sister, Brenda, in their hands.

Sheila was drawn to a particular bust that seemed to resemble her sibling.

When she saw it, she began crying.

A detective ushered Sheila and her sister into a nearby room where they gave DNA samples from a cheek swab. They had no idea what would happen next.

Months later, in August 2017, they would receive the news that their DNA matched that of a bone discovered in the 80’s.

A schoolboy had found the jawbone in 1986, but the identity of the remains was a mystery.

Until now.

Brenda sisters would get the news they both wanted and dreaded.

That jawbone was Brenda’s.

The young mother had been murdered in 1978.

The questions now are who did it and why. The family has remained hopeful all these years. They are relieved to receive what they call confirmation, but are quick to point out that this is certainly not closure.

“We believe there are more questions. This is not the end,” said Sharon Scott through tears. “We just wish it would have been a bigger priority for police over the years. I mean, they’ve had that jaw bone since 1986. All this time.”

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