It took a nearly a month and help from other agencies, but the Clark County coroner’s office has tracked down the elusive family member of the 58-year-old University of Nevada, Las Vegas student who died in her dorm room in September.
The coroner’s office released the identity of the woman Monday after informing the family of her death.
Karen S. Matthews, who was studying criminal justice as a senior starting her first semester at the university, was found dead in her room in UNLV’s Faiman Residence Hall on Sept. 5 after a counselor checking the hall detected a strange odor coming from the room, according to the coroner’s office.
Las Vegas and UNLV police responded to the scene and quickly determined that foul play was not a factor in Matthews’ death. She died of natural causes related to diabetes, the coroner said.
The information listed for Matthews’ emergency contact proved to be outdated, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Monday.
“These cases are extremely challenging to us,” Murphy said. “In this instance, we got the person identified and struggled to find the legal next of kin.”
The coroner’s office knew Matthews’ sister was out there. But finding her proved to be a difficult task.
Coroner’s office employees had been searching nationally for any living relative that Matthews may have had.
Through their research, the coroner’s office determined that all but Matthews’ sister had preceded her in death. They worked extensively with local law enforcement agencies in the Midwest in hopes of tracking the sister down. But after a month, things seemed bleak with most leads drawing a blank.
Over the weekend, Murphy and his office finally got a break after teaming up with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Missing Persons Detail. In a round-table discussion between the two departments, fresh ideas breathed new life into the case.
“When it was all said and done, we were able to track down the sister in Victoria, Texas,” said Murphy, adding that interest from the media helped bring attention to the case. “It all worked out exactly as it was supposed to.”
Murphy said that cases like this represent an extremely small percentage of the deaths his office handles, but a procedure is in place for dealing with them.
Murphy said the office’s goal in situations such as Matthews’ is to inform the family themselves of the loss, no matter how hard they may be to find.
“Certainly, we want to provide resolution when we can,” he said.
Contact reporter Colton Lochheat at email@example.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.