PORTLAND, N.Y. (WIVB) — Albert Sam has gone without answers for 45 years. When his sister disappeared, he was left with a lot of questions. So after the remains of two people were found in the Chautauqua County Town of Portland earlier this week, the emotions flooded through him.
“Heartbroken. Excitement. Scared. Crying. What do you do?” Sam said.
Patricia Laemmerhirt went missing from the Westfield community in 1976. Just about 10 miles away on Sunday, Chautauqua County sheriff’s deputies responded to a remote walking trail after receiving a report that a skull was found. An excavation revealed a skeleton believed to be that of a female.
“I’m hoping, but hoping not,” Sam admitted. “If it’s her, I’m happy because we can put her to rest. We can give her a proper burial.”
“Now that this has come up, my priorities – my kids are grown. I’m older. My priorities now are let’s find out if it’s her and put her to rest,” he added. “And if it’s not her, let’s pray for the family, whoever’s child it is or sibling it is.”
Sheriff Jim Quattrone says he believes the remains are “several decades old”, admitting on Tuesday they broadly appear to fit the time frame of Laemmerhirt’s disappearance. He said they have her DNA for comparison. Investigators are also checking to see if the discovery could be related to any of the other missing person cases from the area, including those of Lori Ceci Bova and Corrie Anderson.
As authorities were searching the area off Woleben Rd. Monday, they found another set of remains. Quattrone said those remains appeared to have only been there for less than a year. It’s unclear whether they are that of a male or female. Both sets of remains were to sent to the Mercyhurst Anthropology Lab in Pennsylvania to be analyzed.
Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, the chair of Mercyhurst’s Department of Applied Forensic Sciences, says an analysis of this type can take a while, with anthropologists careful to document everything they find.
“We’ll look at the bones. We’ll look at the condition of the bones and the soft tissue,” Dirkmaat said. “That will further solidify our estimate of the post-mortem interval. And then the other thing is – how much of the body do we have and what does it tell us about the biological profile? The age, sex, stature, ancestry. Things like that.”
Sam describes his sister as a “nice girl” and a “great mother”. For the past several years, he’s searched the internet for any information he could find that might provide answers.
“We travel a lot,” Sam said. “As I’m going through crowds in cities, you look for her.”
Now, he’ll be watching Chautauqua County and northwestern Pennsylvania.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.
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