When two gasoline pipeline workers discovered the skeletal remains of a young woman last December in an isolated area east of Leesburg, they triggered a mystery that Loudoun County sheriff's deputies continue to struggle with.
For a time, authorities did not even know the woman's name. So few were the details that deputies employed an artist to reconstruct her face using clay.
The sculpture became "Alice" to police and her creator, Margaret Siner.
Loudoun County officials now know the name of the woman: She is Charlotte Ann Powell of Mechanicsburg, Pa.
They identified her through the FBI's computer information network.
Siner's work was helpful in that it generated public interest in the case and some leads, police said, but they didn't generate significant details.
Jay Merchant, the investigator assigned to the case, said information about the skeleton -- height, hair color, approximate time of death, age and dental records -- was entered in the computer and it produced a list of missing persons with similar vital statistics.
Police narrowed the list, found the closest match, and matched dental information from the skeleton with Powell's dental records.
At the time of her death, Powell was 27 years old. She was last seen by family members in July 1987, Merchant said.
She had a history of mental problems, and was known to wander from home and to hitchhike.
That is nearly all deputies know for certain, said Merchant.
A medical examiner determined that the woman had been dead for two to four months when she was discovered Dec. 8 in an overgrown area just off Rte. 653.
Deputies believe that Powell was slain, although her body was so decomposed that a cause of death could not be determined.
Powell was young, so it is unlikely she died of natural causes, deputies said.
She was naked and lying in a position that suggested she had been raped, Merchant said.
Also, the area the body was found in was isolated, the kind of place a killer would want to leave a body, he added.
Merchant said Powell "could have been killed in October or August and her family last saw her in July.
"One of the most difficult things about the case is the unpredictability of her. Where would she have gone? Who would she have gotten with?"
Merchant, who has been to Mechanicsburg to interview Powell's relatives and friends, said he has been working to figure out how she came to Loudoun, and most important, who might have seen her or been with her last.
According to Merchant, the Powell case is somewhat of a symbol of changing times in Loudoun.
The county, once known best for its scenic farmland, is rapidly urbanizing, which means crime will likely follow.
At the same time, there are many secluded places for bodies, Merchant said.
For example, it took Loudoun officials more than two years to solve the murder of Judith DeMaria, 27, a tennis instructor who disappeared in August 1985 while jogging on the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail.
Her body, buried in a secluded shallow grave a few miles from Dulles International Airport, wasn't found until the man later convicted in the slaying turned himself in and confessed.
With Powell, police once again have little to go on, Merchant said.
"We're checking possibilities, but I can't say that we have a prime suspect."