Over 2 years later, woman found dead in ocean remains unidentified

Over 2 years later, woman found dead in ocean remains unidentified

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial start to the busy summer season on the Grand Strand, and two years ago, the holiday began just like any other.

Drawn by the opportunity to get in an early Saturday run on the sand, or a chance to catch the sunrise, visitors and locals alike made their way out to the beach. One of those people included someone perched high above the water, near 24th Avenue South in Myrtle Beach, who noticed something out in the ocean.

As it turns out, that something was someone: a woman floating lifeless in the water.  Lifeguards called to the scene pulled the victim on shore and performed CPR, but a short time later, the woman was pronounced dead at Grand Strand Medical Center.

It's now been more than two years since that day, and the woman still hasn't been identified.

"No one has come close to matching the description of this lady and her tattoo," Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said.

There was a colorful bright tattoo just above her left ankle depicting two dolphins jumping out of the ocean in front of the sun.

At the time she was found, the victim was wearing a floral print bathing suit top, gray shorts, and a t shirt with the words "Sail fast—live slow" screened on the front and back along with "Beaufort, NC." These pieces of evidence would help guide the investigation at first, but never led to the answers needed to close the case.

"In my 27 years of being here, I have three cases that I have not been able to find an identity on someone," explained Edge.

Edge says his office and police have done everything they can to try to identify the woman pulled from the ocean.  They never believed she was murdered or suspected foul play, and the toxicology report showed no trace of drugs or alcohol.

Cuts found on her arms had Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler looking at the woman's death as a possible suicide, but Fowler says while the cuts looked intentional, they were not that deep. It was ultimately ruled that the woman drowned.

Even though a drowning is not "a natural act," Fowler says it's possible the woman could have jumped in the ocean or gone out swimming before becoming too tired to stay above water.

Despite having DNA and fingerprints on file, Edge explained why it's almost as if investigators never got that evidence based on how things stand now.

"Unless she's ever been fingerprinted of some type or been incarcerated, her prints are probably not on file anywhere," Edge explained. "For the DNA, that's also a bank too, and we keep checking that unless there's someone related to her whose DNA gets into that bank, we don't have any way to make a connection to her."

While much is still not known about this mysterious case, Coroner Edge believes the victim may not have lived far from the Grand Strand.

"We have a lot of people who come from Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia because those areas are roughly 8-10 hour trips - day trips to get here," Edge added.

It's that belief that brought investigators back out on the search for clues at the end of summer in 2013 to see if any cars were left abandoned in parking spaces at hotels or lots near the beach but nothing came from that effort.

As for the tattoo, Edge says he's hoping someone may hear about this case and see the picture of those dolphins passing the sun, and be able to identify the victim.

"You see this stuff on TV all the time, but TV is a lot different than real life - you never know what might happen," Edge said.

While the picture of the tattoo could go a long way in helping bring this case to an end, it has also been used to rule out other possibilities.

Just about a month ago, Deputy Coroner Fowler says a caller from Alabama reached out about a possible link to a missing person, but it wasn't a match.

It's worth noting there's a real chance the victim did not drown right off the Grand Strand coastline.

Previously, WMBF News spoke to an ocean currents expert at Coastal Carolina University who says it's very possible a person can drift from any direction, coming from the north or south depending on the time of year.

According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database, whoever this unknown woman is, she died about five hours before she was found.

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