WAYNESBORO, Virginia: When the parents of Karen Santillan Tait receive any time this week the cremated remains of their daughter, who has been missing for more than 10 years, US authorities are hoping the grieving parents would somehow find closure over her sad, tragic fate.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. said on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) that the Philippine embassy has issued the consular mortuary certificate to the Gaten’s Harding Funeral Home in West Virginia, where Karen’s remains have been kept as a case of missing “Jane Doe” for more than a decade, paving the way for the repatriation of her remains to Legazpi City in Albay.
Cuisia told The Manila Times that the necessary documents for the repatriation were already submitted to the embassy by the Ohio-based Inman Shipping Worldwide, the company hired by the Waynesboro Prosecutor’s Office to bring the remains home.
“According to Inman Shipping, a representative from the Funeraria Nuestra Señora de Salvacion in Legazpi City will receive the cremated remains upon arrival in Manila and will then turn these over to Karen’s family,” Cuisia said.
The cost of the cremation, shipment, burial and other related expenses will be shouldered by the police authorities, the prosecutor’s office and private citizens in Waynesboro, a scenic city located about 160 miles northeast of Washington DC.
Cuisia thanked the Waynesboro Police Department and federal prosecutors for finally bringing justice for Karen, who also left behind a daughter, now almost 13 years old.
The Waynesboro PD Foundation last week launched a fundraising drive to give Karen a decent burial and to cover the expenses of bringing her remains to her homeland.
The belated repatriation of Karen’s remains to her roots in a remote village in the outskirts of Legazpi City was made possible by the generosity of the officers and members of the police department of Waynesboro, who also cracked the riddle of her mysterious disappearance and death, as if by divine intervention.
In March 2011, Waynesboro police were investigating reports of alleged child sexual abuse against 52-year-old Thomas Neal Tait, Karen’s husband, when they discovered more than 80,000 images of child pornography on his personal computer.
Tait was charged with 20 counts of possession of child pornography materials even as the original charge of child abuse remains active. Tait was convicted and sentenced last week to 30 years in prison.
30 years for murder
A federal judge on Feb. 11 sentenced Tait, who pleaded guilty to the charge of killing Karen, to 30 years in federal prison.
In the course of their investigation, Waynesboro detectives said they became concerned about the whereabouts and welfare of Karen after Thomas Tait’s alibis did not seem to add up.
Karen, who was described by those who have met her during her less than three years in the US as “meek and timid,” was still in her teens when she married Tait back in 1998 in the Philippines.
The youngest daughter of a poor village couple, Karen legally immigrated to the US in July 2000, with high hopes for a better life with her new family in the land “milk and honey.” She gave birth to a daughter later that year and the family lived in Waynesboro until 2002 when Karen disappeared.
When asked about his wife, Tait told investigators that Karen simply left and he presumed that she had returned to her family in the Philippines.
Tait never reported Karen going missing to authorities.
With the help of the US State Department and Philippine authorities, investigators established that Karen did not return to her homeland and had no contact with her family since 2002. Police also found no trace of her in any data base since the same time frame.
In December 2011, the Waynesboro Police Department declared Karen Tait a case of “involuntary missing person” and entered her case into the National Criminal Information Center and other Missing Person related data bases.
DNA link breakthrough
In addition, a DNA profile of Karen was developed using DNA from her biological child and her parents in the Philippines. This profile was entered into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) operated by the FBI and linked to an unidentified remains case that had been entered into CODIS by the West Virginia Medical examiner’s office.
On Sept. 26, 2002, an unidentified body which authorities later established as that of Karen was discovered by a passerby at Greenbrier State Forest some 100 miles away from Waynesboro.
Armed with these findings, US authorities requested Karen’s dental records which matched the unknown remains in the West Virginia morgue.
On Oct. 16, 2012 the Waynesboro PD was notified by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in West Virginia that the remains found in their state had been positively identified as those of Karen Santillan Tait, who would have been 23 years old at the time of her death.
“We are extremely pleased we could solve this case and bring some sense of closure for Mrs. Tait’s family,” Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via said.
Via lauded local State Police officers and detectives from the Waynesboro Police Department for their hard work in cracking the case.
“The cooperation we received from the officers from Waynesboro was very nearly unprecedented,” Via told reporters. “They had stacks of background information about Mr. and Mrs. Tait.”