SALT LAKE CITY — The family of a woman who was missing for years before her bones were identified pleaded Thursday for help solving what police are calling a homicide investigation.
Family members from Washington state were in Salt Lake City on Thursday to pick up the remains of Nikole Bakoles and discuss the case.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said her 31-year-old brother, James Bakoles, of Renton. “Somebody must know something. She would never hurt herself.”
Bakoles was 20 when she was last seen about a dozen years ago after losing custody of her infant daughter to the parents of her boyfriend. Duck hunters found her remains along the Great Salt Lake in October 2000. It wasn’t until this month, however, that DNA results confirmed her identity.
Bakoles is believed to have been killed months before the hunters found a skull with waist-length hair and two dozen bones near the Saltair resort — she was dubbed “Saltair Sally” by police until her recent identification.
Authorities in Utah say the family didn’t report her missing until 2003, but the woman’s relatives say they called authorities — first in Washington state — early on and even hired a private investigator but made little headway without knowing her address in Utah or having proof she even vanished.
“There’s no way to file a missing report on an adult who just doesn’t call you,” James Bakoles said.
The woman’s mother, Nancy Bakoles, said she never got over the anxiety of wondering what happened to her daughter.
“For the last 12 years and every day, I’ve been worried about, `Is she safe?”’ said Nancy Bakoles, also of Renton, Wash. “I called her my born-again hippie. She sort of was a flower child.”
Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal says detectives have just reopened the case and have no suspects. Based on the remote location where her body was found, police say her death was likely a homicide — the theory is she was killed along Interstate 80, or her body was dumped there.
“We believe there was foul play on this one,” Hoyal said.
Bakoles apparently fell on hard times while losing custody of her daughter. Utah court records show she faced drug and shoplifting charges and was being evicted with her boyfriend from an apartment.
Hoyal said detectives have spoken with Bakoles’ ex-boyfriend, Joel Chaudoin, who is serving an 84-month sentence in Washington state for possession of a stolen vehicle, theft, forgery and burglary. It was unclear who Chaudoin’s attorney was in his previous case.
His father, Joseph Chaudoin, told The Associated Press on Thursday that his son was an early suspect in Bakoles’ disappearance, but the case was never solved.
Bakoles’ daughter is now 13 and living in Wisconsin with the Chaudoin family, he said.
The case took a scientific turn earlier this year when new technology developed by University of Utah scientist Jim Ehleringer examined isotopes in hair fibers to determine where “Saltair Sally” had been living. The results showed she was from the Pacific Northwest, which allowed police to rule out other missing persons as potential victims.
From there, detectives worked backward to Bakoles’ mother in Washington state, who provided a DNA sample that matched the genetic material in her daughter’s remains.
Anyone with information is asked to call Unified Police Detective Todd Park at 801-743-5850.