The first night that Janet Lee Lucas didn’t make it back home in 1983, her twin brother Jim felt more irritated than concerned.
For two weeks, Janet and her 5-year-old son had been staying with Jim and his then-wife in Spokane, Washington, while Janet, who was “something of a partier,” as her brother put it, got back on her feet. It hadn’t quite worked: That afternoon, Jim had found Janet on a stool at a local bar called Bigfoot drinking with a couple of guys he didn’t know, he said.
When Jim told her she needed to get home to her son, Janet, who was 22 at the time, didn’t want to hear it, he added.
“She just started yelling and screaming at me, ‘I don’t love none of you guys.’ I wish I could remember her exact words, but I can remember her yelling and screaming,” Jim told The Daily Beast. “And I do remember the barmaid telling me I’ve got to leave or they’ll call the police. So I went out and sat in my car for a few minutes. And then I just left.”
According to Jim, it was the last time anyone in his family would see Janet. At first, they thought she’d taken off. But as the days stretched into months and then years, the Lucas family—which includes three sisters and another three brothers in addition to Jim—began to suspect something else.
“Deep down, inside, most of us believed something did happen to her—especially me,” Jim told The Daily Beast.
They were right. On Monday, the Sheriff’s Department in Missoula, Montana, announced that, through DNA analysis, the remains of a young woman found back in 1985 and known for years as only “Christy Crystal Creek” had been positively identified as Janet Lee Lucas.
And while Janet's identification helps resolve the mystery of her disappearance, it also thrusts her family into the middle of another one: Who killed her? And perhaps most horrifying of all: Could she have been yet another victim of suspected serial killer Wayne Nance, whom authorities believe operated in the Missoula area at that time?
“The Cold Case Unit is reviewing evidence and reports from the Wayne Nance case file to identify any possible link between Nance and Janet,” the Missoula Sheriff’s Department said in its press release about Lucas’ identification.
In 1985, a hunter tracking a bear in the woods south of Missoula found the skeletal remains of a young woman. She had been killed by two close-range gunshot wounds to the head. At the time, officials estimated her age to be between 20 and 35. They named her “Christy Crystal Creek” after the creek near where she’d been discovered.
For years, investigators had worked to identify Christy Crystal Creek’s remains with little luck. Forensic anthropologists and odontologists had struck out, and missing persons databases had contained no hits, the Missoula Sheriff’s Department said in the news release.
Part of the problem was that, because of some unique dental work, officials had thought “Christy” was likely of Asian descent—a belief that made its way into every police sketch done over the years, her brother recalled.
“So that blew us way off,” Jim told The Daily Beast, noting that members of his family who had scoured missing-persons databases had never considered that “Christy” could be Janet. “I remember somebody seeing an article in the late 80s and didn’t even put two-and-two together.”
On Christmas Eve, 1984, just nine months before a hunter would find Janet Lucas’ remains, a photographer had come across the body of another young woman, later known as “Debbie Deer Creek,” in the same woods south of Missoula. Through DNA evidence, “Debbie” was identified in 2006 as Marci Bachmann, a 16-year-old who had met Nance in a Missoula bar. Authorities had long suspected Bachmann was one of Nance’s victims after some of her hairs had been found in his home. But until they identified her remains, they didn’t have proof that she’d died.
Given that Lucas’ death likely occurred at a time and place where Nance was known to be active, the Missoula Sheriff’s Department press release indicated they are examining whether she may have been another of his victims. Nance, who holds the dubious distinction of being one of the only serial killers to have been killed by an intended victim, died in 1986 while attacking a couple in their home. He was never charged with any of the murders he’s suspected of committing.
But Jim told The Daily Beast that he has come around to the idea that it’s likely Janet was one of Nance’s victims.
“Never in a million years would I think she was probably killed by a serial killer,” he said, before adding, “To me, I’m almost certain that it was him. Because everything’s there. There’s always that slight, slight, chance that it was somebody else, but if you start doing the math and reading up on everything, it points to him, it points right back to him.”
The Missoula Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
After identifying Bachman in 2006, Missoula authorities began using DNA to try to identify “Christy’s” remains. But this connection took much longer. Earlier this year, authorities used a genealogy site to match Lucas’ DNA to a distant cousin, a process similar to the one used to identify the Golden State Killer in 2018.
“After weeks of intense genealogy research, we were able to identify DNA relatives and family trees which led us to Janet's family in Spokane. After conducting numerous interviews and confirming our conclusions with additional DNA testing of relatives, we are now able to conclusively identify Christy Crystal Creek as Janet L. Lucas,” the department said in its press release.
In addition to carrying the burden of not knowing what happened to his sister, Jim said that for the last four decades he’s also carried guilt that what happened at the bar means that her disappearance was somehow his fault.
“I’ve driven by [Bigfoot] numerous times because I live north of Spokane now. I just glance over at it and I go back in time,” Lucas said. “I’ve been living with guilt. Maybe I should have just picked her up and brought her home in my car. But at the time I figured, you know, she’ll be home. We had some pretty harsh words.”
Still, Jim told The Daily Beast, having at least a partial answer to what happened to Janet has offered a degree of closure for him and his family, and especially for Janet’s son, who is now in his 40s and has spent much of his life trying to find out what happened to his mother.
“She would never take off and leave him for that amount of time, never in the world,” Lucas said of Janet’s son.
“I think it’s more or less a relief we can bring her remains home and honor her by giving her a proper memorial,” he added. “We’re all grieving and wondering ‘what if’ and we’re in shock. But you know, Janet was loved, big time. Everybody cared about each other. Even if she had the wild side. We all had a wild side, and some of us grew out of it, some of us didn’t. But she was pretty young when she was taken from us. I’m sure she would have, too.”