SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – It took 42 years for Aletha Young to learn what happened to her mother.
The Jane Doe found near Cove Fort in 1979 was Sandra Matott. The news reached her family the week before, but they were told to remain quiet until it became official
“It means we can finally put her to rest and all of my nephews and nieces can have a place to mourn their mother,” says Colleen Hawkins, Matott’s younger sister.
It was in August 1979 when Matott was last seen by her family and children. Aletha Young is Matott’s daughter and was only 12-years-old when her mother vanished.
“I knew she was out there somewhere,” says Young. “[It’s] just a little bit of relief that I knew where she was at. I knew she was dead. I just got a feeling that [it’s] a little bit of peace of mind.”
The remains of Millard County’s Jane Doe were found amongst the scrub oak near Cove Fort. It was discovered a few months after Matott disappeared. The remains had no teeth, little clothing, and a ring. The description was similar to Matott’s.
But no one made the connection until two years ago when Millard County sheriff deputies reopened the case and sent the remains to a laboratory to compare the DNA.
“They were able to take those remains to a laboratory in North Texas and they were able to confirm it was indeed Sandra,” says Michael Ruff with Salt Lake City Police. “Now we’re in the process of getting those remains back to her family so that they can have a proper burial.”
Sgt. Patrick Bennett with the Millard County Sheriff’s Office said it was NAMUS (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) that deserved the credit for matching Jane Doe with Matott.
Bennett said in November 2019, a regional official with NAMUS tutored him on how to narrow searches on using their databases.
“That is how I first heard of Sandra Matott,” Bennett said in an email to ABC4. “After that, he assisted in arranging the release of the remains from the Medical Examiner’s Office to be sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI). This is what led to the identification of Sandra. Without NAMUS, it may have been even longer before we had the resources presented to us to identify Sandra.”
Matott’s younger sister never gave up hope that the family would have answers regarding her whereabouts.
“I had faith that we would find out someday,” says Hawkins. “Prayers are always answered, even if it takes 42 years.”
But Matott’s disappearance took a devastating toll on her then 12-year-old daughter who felt helpless.
“We went to the police station and filed a missing people report,” says Young. “I remember going to the library and look at newspapers. [I felt] very lonely, like something was missing.”
Among the items kept by Millard County are Matoot’s watch and ring that were found with her remains. More importantly though are Matott’s remains. She is to be cremated and returned to the family.
“I am going to cremate her because I want to put her in a necklace and have her with me because she hasn’t been with me for 42 years,” says Young.
But there is one last question for authorities — Who caused Matott’s death? Hawkins has a hunch.
The story will continue Wednesday.