Body in Houston barrel ID'd with DNA from twin sister
It took a two-decades-old unsolved murder of a Houston woman to unravel the mysterious slaying of her twin sister, Stacie Lee Ann Lutz Anderson, whose skeletal remains were identified last week after being kept in a barrel for more than 10 years, homicide detectives said Tuesday.
Stacie vanished in late 1999 at age 30, two years after she had married a man 23 years older than her. Her husband, Dennis Ray Anderson — a convicted murderer already paroled from a Texas prison — never reported his wife missing.
Stacie's family thought she had returned to California, where sometimes she liked to visit. No one ever reported her missing to law enforcement officials, according to detective Shawn Carrizal of the Harris County Sheriff's Office homicide division.
But last fall, the skeletal remains of a woman tucked in a sitting position were found hidden inside a 55-gallon metal barrel that was bolted down and stashed in the yard outside Dennis Anderson's home at 7815 Split Oak Court in northwest Harris County.
Anderson, 64, was not home at the time of the gruesome discovery and split on a Greyhound bus for Florida. On Oct. 29, he committed suicide, hanging himself with his boot laces in a motel room in Pensacola, Fla. He left a note in a pocket that confessed to strangling the woman found in the barrel outside his residence.
Carrizal said that at his suggestion, anthropologists and scientists at the Harris County Institute Of Forensic Sciences used the DNA of the victim’s long-dead twin sister — the victim of an unsolved homicide that occurred in Houston in 1990 — to identify her.
Cold case was only hope
It was an effort that spanned more than five months. There were no dental records or X-ray files that anthropologists could consult to identify the woman in the barrel. Her bones were in bad shape and in some places had eroded through completely. Stacie had no biological family members closely enough related to provide a mouth swab for DNA comparisons.
That’s when Carrizal decided to turn to the victim’s slain twin sister, Tracie De Ann Lutz, in the hope of solving the mystery. Tracie's death is a cold case being investigated by the Houston Police Department.
"I knew that was my only chance" to identify the woman in the barrel, Carrizal said.
Pathologists used preserved tissue samples taken from Tracie, also known as Tracie Bailey, at the time of her autopsy in Houston in 1990; that evidence was used to compare to the DNA extracted from Stacie's bones.
The result was a positive match on April 6, said Dr. Jennifer Love, forensic anthropology director at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
The cause of Tracie's death was not immediately clear Tuesday. No one could recall where she died or the exact date of her death.
The twins' relatives, who still live in Houston, could not be reached for comment Tuesday - most likely because they are in Louisiana for Stacie's funeral, Carrizal said.
But the family expressed appreciation and thanked detectives for finally answering the question of what had happened to their long-lost loved one, Carrizal said.
"They were relieved," Carrizal said. "The stepfather told me it must have been a miracle that day that I went out there (to Dennis Anderson's house) and did what I did. Even the cousins that used to play with her when she was a kid always wondered about her because they thought she just went to California and never came back. They always thought she'd come back home. She never did.
"And once this came up, they just had a gut feeling that it was her in the barrel," the detective said.
Crime Stoppers tip
Dennis Anderson had moved the barrel containing his dead wife's bones from one house to another whenever he changed addresses around Houston for at least three or four years, Carrizal said.
Anderson's dark secret was revealed Oct. 18 when someone tipped Crime Stoppers that a dead body might be found in a barrel at his house on Split Oak Court. The person who tipped Crime Stoppers said Anderson claimed to have choked a woman to death and placed her body in the barrel, moving the container from residence to residence, a search warrant affidavit shows.
Officers found the bolted-down barrel in the yard. Inside were Stacie's skeletal remains, clad only in a T-shirt, wrapped in a bed sheet and then tucked inside several trash bags that were bound with electrical or steel wire, the affidavit states.
Anderson's suicide note said he had killed his wife in the 1990s and angrily alleged she had stolen money and personal property from him, Carrizal said.
"At no time did anyone know of my murder of my wife," Anderson wrote in the suicide note, according to Carrizal.
"I regret this greatly, but it happened," the man wrote before killing himself.
Detectives aren't sure when or where exactly Stacie was killed, but said the barrel containing her remains was seen at a house where she and her husband used to reside at 7260 Dillon in southeast Houston. Her husband lived at that address until 2001, public records show.
Love called the technique used to solve the crime significant, saying it could provide a new tool for cracking similar cases.
"This is very new in DNA," she said of the approach. "This is a success for this case, but it also provides another avenue for us to get DNA on individuals who receive an autopsy, have been buried and are unknown."
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