Remains found in Hammond last fall identified
By Mark Taylor Post-Tribune correspondent January 19, 2012 2:42PM
Francine Carlson | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 13, 2013 5:36PM
Hammond police and an Indianapolis forensic anthropologist have positively identified the scattered bones of a woman found in October in a razed North Hammond building.
Stephen Nawrocki, a professor of biology and anthropology at the University of Indianapolis consulting for the Hammond Police Department, helped identify the bones as Francine Carlson, (maiden name Fish) who was 38 when she was reported missing to Whiting police on June 7, 1999.
Carlson, a divorced mother of two whom police said was from Chicago, had been living in the Whiting and Robertsdale neighborhood of North Hammond when she disappeared. She last was seen in March 1999 but wasn’t reported missing by family or her live-in boyfriend for several months.
Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said in identifying Carlson, police narrowed down leads from local family members who had reported loved ones missing. Police took a DNA sample from Carlson’s son, Timothy Carlson, which proved a positive match.
Carlson’s bones were uncovered by a neighbor’s Rottweiller on Oct. 5 within the vacant former Great Lakes Bait and Tackle Shop just days before the grounds were to be bulldozed. The discovery of the bones halted construction work, and Hammond Police called in Nawrocki and his students.
P.J. Adams, chief deputy coroner with the Lake County Coroner’s Office, said the University of Indianapolis still has Carlson’s skeletal remains and said a cause of death would not likely be released soon.
“Do we suspect foul play? Absolutely,” Adams said. “She was found buried beneath a vacated building. It’s highly likely that foul play was involved. But it may be impossible to determine a cause or manner of death. The bones weren’t all recovered, and many could have been damaged by the earth-mover. Twelve years have passed. We are awaiting the findings of Dr. Nawrocki. Hopefully they’ll be able to tell us how things might have happened.”
Miller said Nawrocki played a crucial role in establishing the age and gender of Carlson and her approximate time of death. He said Carlson was divorced and living in Whiting at the time of her death.
‘She always came back’
Whiting Police Detective Capt. John Sotello, who investigated Carlson’s disappearance, said he was in touch with her sister, Donna Maslowski of Oak Lawn, Ill., almost annually until her death in 2010. Sotello said Francine Carlson was a troubled woman who battled alcoholism and had numerous alcohol-related arrests. The Lake County Clerk’s Office confirmed arrests for public intoxication from 1996 to 1999 and a Highland arrest for public intoxication in 1989 as Francine Fish. He said Carlson was well-known to Whiting police.
“She was the nicest person in the world when she was sober, but the devil got in her when she drank,” said Sotello, who said Carlson tried rehab several times unsuccessfully and met her live-in boyfriend, John Lynn, at a rehab meeting. He said she frequented Whiting and Robertsdale bars, particularly Nasty Habits (now Game Time).
Sotello said that Lynn didn’t report Carlson missing for several months because she had a pattern of disappearing for weeks and months and then returning home.
“She’s always come back to this guy,” he recalled. “We followed leads locally and in Chicago and always came up empty-handed. Every time there was a Jane Doe reported we checked with local departments and morgues. It was a surprise that she was found after all these years. It must be a relief to her family, but it’s so unfortunate that she was found dead.”
Sotello said that Carlson did not have custody of her two children, Gina and Timothy Carlson, who lived with their father. He said Carlson’s parents were deceased. Neither Sotello nor Hammond’s Chief Miller had information on Carlson’s education or employment history. The investigation into Carlson’s presumed murder is ongoing, but police declined to name or identify any potential suspects.
“Our detectives will interview persons of interest and we’ll have more conversations with the family,” he said, acknowledging that the cold case will be challenging to investigate 12 years after Carlson’s disappearance. “I’m sure friends will come forward and we’ll develop leads from there and when we get cause of death, that will push the investigation and we’ll see what we can come up with.”
Miller said there have been no arrests in the case and no primary suspects identified yet.
Anyone who knew Francine Carlson (maiden name Francine Fish) or has information about her disappearance or contacts is asked to contact Hammond Police Detective Sgt. Ken Stump or Detective Lt. Tom Fulk at 852-2906.
Contact Mark Taylor