Nation & World

Body found near Talladega racetrack identified 10 years later, Alabama officials say

Alabama authorities have identified the remains of a woman found near Talladega Superspeedway in 2012 as Jean Turner Ponders, 67, of Roswell, Georgia.
Alabama authorities have identified the remains of a woman found near Talladega Superspeedway in 2012 as Jean Turner Ponders, 67, of Roswell, Georgia. Screengrab from DNASolves.com

After 10 years, human remains found just miles from a popular Alabama racetrack have been positively identified as those of a Georgia woman, officials announced Jan. 13.

Forensics experts from the private laboratory Othram Inc. used DNA testing to confirm the remains found by a Talladega County Sheriff’s Office deputy in 2012 belong to 67-year-old Jean Turner Ponders of Roswell, Georgia, according to the lab.

The Texas-based laboratory uses DNA sequencing to aid police in human identification investigations.

The deputy was patrolling in Lincoln, Alabama on May 4, 2012 when he noticed the front door of an abandoned home was wide open, AL.com reported, citing police. He searched the backyard of the property, less than five miles from Talladega Superspeedway, and discovered the human remains.

“Investigators estimated that the woman was white and between 45 and 65 years old,” Othram said in a news release. “She was found wearing a royal blue shirt, dark blue sweatpants, and off-white shoes. She had sandy brown hair that was graying and wore dentures engraved with the name ‘Powders.’”

A multi-day racing event drew thousands to Talladega Superspeedway the weekend that Ponders’ remains were found, officials said. However, investigators did not determine a connection between her death and the events that weekend.

Efforts to ID the body proved difficult, as there were “no identifying documents found at the scene and the remains were too decomposed to collect fingerprints,” according to the release. But the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences found the then-unidentified woman had likely died of lung cancer.

The case went cold after investigators were unable to match the woman’s description with any local missing persons cases and all leads were exhausted.

Lincoln police then teamed with Othram, which used advanced testing to match DNA from the remains with Ponders’ family members. Her sister reported her missing in 2015 after she didn’t hear from Ponders for three years, WIAT reported, citing police in Roswell, Georgia.

In a statement, Lincoln officials thanked Othram Inc. and forensics experts for helping them solve a piece of the 10-year-old mystery.

“If not for considerable assistance from Othram, Inc. ... and a forensic genetic genealogist named Carla Davis, Lincoln Police Department would still have a cold case,” police said in a news release. “Because of all this assistance and hundreds of investigative hours put in by Lincoln Police investigators over the years, Ms. Ponders has her identity back.”

Authorities said they are still investigating the circumstances of Ponders’ death.

Roswell is about 22 miles north of downtown Atlanta. Lincoln is about 106 miles west of Atlanta.

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This story was originally published January 14, 2022 1:37 PM.

Tanasia is a national Real-Time reporter based in Atlanta covering news across Georgia, Mississippi and the southeastern U.S. Her sub-beat is retail and consumer news. She’s an alumna of Kennesaw State University and joined McClatchy in 2020.
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