LITTLE ROCK Amy Upshaw, a general assignment reporter for this newspaper’s state desk, first saw Carmeletta Green’s photograph six years ago while looking through old newspaper clippings.
The image, which shows Carmeletta smiling - her lazy eye hidden behind thick glasses - stuck with Upshaw.
“It was just such a sweet picture, and it was so sad,” Upshaw said. “I wondered what kind of life this little girl had, and I wondered what happened to her.”
For years, Upshaw wanted to write an in-depth story about the 12-year-old’s 1982 disappearance but never had the chance. Still, she kept a file on the missing girl in her desk.
Read all stories in this series.
Then, over the summer, Upshaw overheard C.S. Murphy, a reporter for thenewspaper’s projects team, mention a mysterious set of unidentified human remains being kept in the state medical examiner's “bone room.”
The unidentified bones, found in Pulaski County in 1991, were notable because they were the only set at the state morgue belonging to a child. They also contained a set of teeth, which should have made the identification process much easier.
The two reporters pulled out Upshaw’s file on Carmeletta and realized that the unidentified remains were found off Archwood Park Road in Little Rock - only 4 1 /2 miles from Carmeletta’s former home on Center Street.
“We both thought, ‘Oh my God, what if it’s her?’” Murphy said.
Within days, Murphy spoke with Crime Lab Director Kermit Channell about the remains.
Channell told Murphy that the bones had already been tested and that the results showed that they did not belong to Carmeletta.
Still, the two reporters kept investigating, and more clues linking Carmeletta and the remains began to surface.
The Archwood Park Road remains belonged to a young girl about Carmeletta’s age.
Investigators also knew that the remains were those of a black girl, and like Carmeletta, had fillings in several teeth.
Not only were the bones found within 4 1 /2 miles of Carmeletta’s former home, but they were also within 2 miles of the former home of one of the suspects in her disappearance.
“We couldn’t figure out how it could not be her,” Murphy said. “It was a remarkable coincidence.”
Upshaw and Murphy spent six months re-examining the case. Misplaced or destroyed police case files and evidence added to the time needed toreport and verify the story.
The reporters pressed law enforcement and Crime Lab officials to dig for old evidence that police did not know still existed. One piece is now being retested.
The reporters uncovered enough circumstantial evidence to prompt Channell to review the previous testing done on the remains.
Channell felt confident in the lab’s work but knew it was possible that the samples were contaminated during the testing process.
“I thought, ‘Wait a minute, you’re causing me some concern. I’m going to pull the files and do some research,’” Channell said.
Ultimately, Channell decided to have the remains retested to see if they matched Carmeletta’s DNA. As part of the process, Little Rock police detective Steve Moore collected DNA swabs and blood samples from Carmeletta’s mother.
In August, the Crime Lab sent the new sample to an FBI lab for retesting.
On Nov. 30, the results of the new test came back with different findings than before - the previously unidentified bones in fact belonged to Carmeletta Green.
Upshaw and Murphy said large caseloads, minimal media coverage and the lack of a system for investigators to share information on unidentified human remains all contributed to Carmeletta’s bones sitting unidentified in a storage room for nearly 20 years.
But they were encouraged by lab officials’ and investigators’ willingness to re-examine the case.
“You have to give them credit because they were the ones who had something to lose by poking around in this old case,” Murphy said. “It would make their agencies potentially look bad, and they put that aside because they wanted to find out what happened to her.”
Lab officials and an investigator, meanwhile, praised the reporters for their persistence.
Channell said the newspaper’s investigation, prompted him to take a “second look” at the case.
“We were taking an active role in missing persons in general, but I think that this helped us focus our attention on this particular case,” he said.
Without the reporters, Carmeletta’s mother still would not know her daughter’s fate, said Moore, the detective handling the case.
“At least she knows where her child is,” Moore said. “I think y’all were the most instrumental in the case.” Information for this article was contributed by C.S. Murphy and Amy Upshaw of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.