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Investigation sheds new light on decades-old mix up of ‘Killing Fields’ victims’ remains

The mix up was discovered in 1997 when a victim’s remains were exhumed and extra rib bones were discovered in her casket

LEAGUE CITY, Texas – Founder of Texas EqquSearch, Tim Miller is suing Galveston County for the second time over the handling of his daughter, Laura’s remains. Laura Miller is one of four victims found off Calder Drive in League City during the 80s and 90s in an area that became known as the “Killing Fields.”

“So they wonder, ‘why can’t you put your life back together?’ Because every day there’s a new story and it’s not pleasant,” said Tim Miller. “Do you think I want to cry over this 35 years later when my life is supposed to be healed and moving forward? Hell, no.”

Remains mixed up, now identified

In 1997, Tim Miller had his daughter’s body exhumed when the family learned not all of her remains were buried. Miller sued the county and settled.

“(I) said, ‘all I want is Laura’s remains so she can rest in peace,’ and here we are again,” said Miller.

During the exhumation it was discovered Laura was buried with more rib bones than a human should have. According to the current Galveston County Medical Examiner, Dr. Erin Barnhart, the extra bones were placed in a separate container and filed under “a different case number.”

Those extra bones have now been identified as belonging to another “Killing Fields” victim, Audrey Cook.

“It all makes so much sense. Way back in the day, they mixed these girls’ body parts together,” said Miller.

Cook remained unidentified until 2019 when League City police and the FBI used advanced DNA testing and family genealogical studies to learn her identity. The same process identified a fourth victim, Donna Prudhomme.

Why did identification take so long?

Barnhart said partially because Cook went unidentified for decades and partially because DNA testing was not routine in the 90s.

“That’s what happens with current cases, is that DNA extraction is automatically done to try to make an identification, but with very old cases and partial skeletonized remains, that was generally not done,” said Barnhart.

Barnhart inherited this problem. Dr. W.E. Korndorffer was the medical examiner at the time the women’s remains were found and examinations were conducted. He has since died.

What caused this issue to resurface?

Barnhart said a call from League City police prompted them to search their records and learn that the extra bones found in Miller’s grave in 1997 were stored at Sam Houston State University. League City police then combed through decades of old reports and autopsies to determine that the unidentified remains belonged to Cook. Barnhart said testing confirmed as much.

League City police told KPRC 2 that it was the Medical Examiner’s Office that contacted detectives to inform them a set of bones found in a box marked “Calder Road Killings” had been found. League City police said their department paid for the new round of testing that determined the extra bones did belong to Cook. When KPRC 2 asked Barnhart about the discrepancy, she directed us to her chief investigator, DJ Florence.

Florence told us after Korndorffer retired and before Barnhart became the ME, he found boxes in the office’s garage with human remains. He said he packed up those remains and sent them to Sam Houston State University for safekeeping and eventual testing.

“I don’t remember how the bones came up this time,” said Florence. “If League City said that’s what happened, then I guess that’s true.”

One of Cook’s family members contacted KPRC 2 after seeing previous coverage of the story. The family member said they were notified about the missing bones and that a bag of Cook’s fingernail clippings had disappeared.

League City police said the ME’s file on Cook showed her fingernails were clipped and saved as possible evidence. Yet, League City officials said their records show no indication that the clippings were ever given to police and are not stored with their department.

What about Laura’s remains?

The remains found in a box in the ME’s Office last year that may belong to Laura Miller have yet to be tested. Part of the reason Tim Miller filed his second lawsuit was because he was told those remains could not be tested without a DNA sample to match against. Miller said he was accused of refusing to provide that sample, so the remains were sent back to Galveston County with no conclusions reached.

An attorney for Galveston County told KPRC 2 they suspect those remains belong to Laura Miller because they were found in a box bearing her case number.

“The grieving process, the healing process is so very long and painful. But then it pops up again, and pops up again, not only for my family but for Audrey’s family now too,” said Miller.

League City police said they never asked Miller for a DNA sample because they were never told more of Laura’s remains may have been found and sent out for testing. Barnhart could not comment on this point because of the pending litigation. Florence said he remembers the plan was to send those remains to the University of North Texas to determine if a DNA sample could even be extracted from such old remains.

Florence said he remembers the decision not to do DNA testing came after it was believed there was information in the case file to link those remains to Laura Miller. Tim Miller said when he contacted the University of North Texas himself, he was told that without a DNA profile to test against, there was no way to conclusively prove whether those remains belong to his daughter.

Miller hired Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who said he will get the remains tested.

“You think I want to have to bury my daughter for the third time?” said Miller.

Is Tim Miller a suspect?

Miller said he was incensed to learn he may be considered a suspect by League City police. Miller said he even recently took a polygraph test and passed with “the highest score the examiner ever recorded.”

League City said Miller is not considered a suspect and the issue is the result of a misunderstanding. League City police said when these cases were reopened, new detectives were going over every piece of evidence to see if some detail may have been missed.