HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS - A young girl known only by the Smurfette cartoon on her shirt was found dead in a trash bag on the side of the road in 2012. It's a case that's puzzled investigators for years, but they’re hoping someone out there can help find her family.
"This breaks my heart whenever we hear these cases,” said Bobbie Mark of Redeemed Ministries.
Hiding on a busy street was the mysterious death of a young girl: someone's secret. Walters Road in northwest Harris County is where her story ends, but where did it begin?
"I think our office sees all of us working on this case as her voice,” said Dr. Sharon Derrick, a forensic anthropologist and Identification Manager for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
Nobody knows her name, but Dr. Derrick is working to find it. They have a digital reconstruction of what she might have looked like.
"We're hoping that will jog people's memory,” Dr. Derrick said.
On October 16, 2012, this girl was found in a garbage bag on the side of the road.
"She deserves to have her identity back,” Dr. Derrick said.
Investigators think the girl could have been out there two or three weeks before she was discovered. It's such a busy street, it took a driver stopping to look for their hubcap to find her.
"She had the most beautiful hair, just really glossy and slightly wavy, looked like she had put some purple coloring in it at some point,” Dr. Derrick said.
It was the cartoon character, though, on her t-shirt that grabbed the most attention and got her the nickname "Smurfette." She was wearing cargo pants, too, but there was something else that seemed strange.
"She had on adult women's lingerie, which seemed a bit in conflict with her age and with the rest of the clothing she was wearing,” Dr. Derrick said. "We began to worry about whether she was a girl who was trafficked.”
"FM 1960 at one time was an absolute hot bed for this. There was brothel after brothel after brothel, posing as massage parlors,” said Bobbie Mark, who counsels sex trafficking victims through an organization she founded with her husband called Redeemed Ministries.
If this girl was trafficked, it doesn't surprise Mark that relatives are hard to find.
"Often times, one of the things that makes these girls and these women vulnerable is the estrangement from their families,” Mark said.
However, that doesn't mean the Harris County Sheriff's Office hasn't tried. Sgt. Felipe Rivera even reached out south of the border, in Mexico and Central America, to try and find her family.
"It's very difficult for us guys that have been working homicides for a long time. It's just sad that no one can come up and say, 'Hey, this is my loved one, and we'd like to know what happened to them,'” Rivera said.
Another thing they'd like to know is where did that Smurf shirt came from that made such an impression?
"We tried labels, we tried everything we could, we tried local stores, internet stores," Rivera said.
However, they never found one the same.
"I do understand why people call her 'Smurfette,' and if it helps to build public awareness, then that's fine, but what if that was a friend of her shirt and her family had never seen it,” Dr. Derrick said.
We asked Dr. Derrick if she thinks the family is still out there.
"Oh, I definitely do," she said. "I don't know if they're in the United States."
Wherever they are, this doctor is determined to keep looking. Because for this girl's life, a garbage bag lost on the side of a busy street should have never been the end.
"Somewhere her family is out there, and I know they would like to know what happened to her,” Dr. Derrick said.
Authorities were able to get the girl’s DNA. Her profile is listed on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database. Over the years, they have been able to rule several people out.
Investigators also told us this girl had good teeth and dental care -- something they don't often see in missing persons cases. A sign that someone was taking care of her and out there somewhere could be a family.
For more information on the case and how to send tips to investigations, click here.
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