Officials identify remains of woman believed to be Shawn Grate's first victim

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MARION COUNTY, Ohio— A 12-year mystery may be solved.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office identified the remains of a woman believed to be convicted serial killer Shawn Grate’s first victim.

Sheriff Tim Bailey says her name was Dana Nicole Lowrey, a 23-year-old from Louisiana.

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"She was selling magazines, door to door, sold magazines to (Shawn Grate’s) mother, which were never delivered,” the sheriff said. “And the mother was irritated, he was irritated to the point where one day he saw her in Marion walking down the street, so he somehow enticed her into the car, took her to his house, and because she hadn’t delivered the magazines, he choked and stabbed her.”

At the time, she was far from home in Louisiana, and the calls home stopped. She was declared missing in May 2006.

It was more than a year later, in March 2007, when a man walking his dog and searching for cans spotted her remains along Victory Road.

“And that’s all there was – there was bones scattered across a field. There was no clothing, jewelry, purse, wallet, no identification whatsoever. Just the bones,” Sheriff Bailey said. “We had nothing for nine years. We had no leads, absolutely nothing until Shawn Grate was caught for murdering other women, and he confessed to killing our victim. Up until that point, we had nothing.”

But that does not mean that investigators were not trying. One of the people who worked hardest on the case was Samantha Molnar with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

“We did the facial reconstruction – nothing matched,” Molnar said. “And then we did the isotope analysis. Again, great information, but we didn’t get any tips that matched, and then the DNA Doe Project was next.”

That isotope testing did point investigators to the areas from Texas to Florida and the states in between. Grate also had told them that he remembered her name as either Dana or Diana.

But it was not until the DNA Doe Project tapped into its genealogical database that the mystery started to unravel. One distant matching relative eventually led to Lowery and her two young daughters. They were just one and five when she disappeared. But it was their DNA that eventually led to the final positive identification.

“I can’t even put into words – it’s sad, it’s exciting, ‘cause at least the family knows, but the result is awful, what happened to her is awful,” Molnar said. “She was so young and then her daughters grew up never knowing their mother. I think that breaks my heart more than anything.”

Lowrey’s stepfather Ed Phillips was shocked when 10TV broke the news to him.

“I was floored,” he said from his home in Meadville, Penn. “It was like – my god, my son dead. Now my stepdaughter.”

Phillips said he spent several years trying to find his stepdaughter via the Internet, hoping to reconnect with her. He and Lowrey’s mother divorced after ten years of marriage.

He says he remembers Lowrey as a pretty girl who often butted heads with her parents, as many teenagers do.

He had harsh words for his stepdaughter’s alleged killer.

“Throw the book at him, do everything you can, do whatever,” he said. “Just tell the prosecutor – do not let him see the light of day ever again.”

Grate was sentenced to death in 2018 for the murders of 29-year-old Elizabeth Griffith and 43-year-old Stacey Stanley.

Earlier this year, Grate pleaded guilty to killing two other women: Rebekah Leicy and Candace Cunningham.

Sheriff Bailey says the Marion County prosecutor plans to take Lowrey’s case to the grand jury, and he does expect an indictment.

“(Shawn Grate) killed this woman, he’s admitted to killing this woman, and I think he should be held accountable for it,” the sheriff said.

Grate is incarcerated at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

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