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SKELETON HELPS END 9-YEAR MYSTERY REMAINS IDENTIFIED AS THOSE OF SALAMANCA BRIDE-TO-BE; HOMICIDE IS INDICATED

Skeletal remains found near Little Valley were identified late Monday as those of Karen A. Damon, who disappeared from Salamanca on April 12, 1980, three months before her wedding day.

A preliminary examination of the remains indicates Miss Damon's death was a homicide, according to the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Jerry E. Burrell said an "ongoing laboratory analysis" may pinpoint the cause of death, with results expected in three to four weeks.

With that, Burrell said he is reopening the case and plans to interview as many of the 60 people originally interviewed by lawmen in 1980 as possible.

Positive identification was made from evidence found at the scene and a report issued Monday by the Erie County medical examiner's office after the skeleton was examined in Buffalo.

Miss Damon, who was 23, suffered from scoliosis -- curvature of the spine -- and a Harrington rod had been inserted in her spinal column in an operation sometime between 1970 and 1977 to correct the condition, Burrell said.

Several X-rays of her spine, therefore, were available from Children's Hospital.

The spinal column found in the shallow grave was a "perfect match," the sheriff said. Dental records also matched, he said.

A gold and diamond ring found with the body was an engagement ring, officials at the sheriff's office said. At the time of her disappearance, Miss Damon was engaged to Gene Mack, then living nearby in the Randolph area, other sources disclosed. The couple had made arrangements to marry July 5, 1980.

Miss Damon, a student of practical nursing at St. Francis Hospital in Olean, vanished from her apartment at 13 Oak St., Salamanca, three weeks after her mother died.

She left her purse, money and clothing. Her 4-year-old child, Angie, who attended St. Mary's School for the Deaf, was left sleeping.

At the time, police said she must have been abducted from her apartment that Saturday night, because when they were called by neighbors on Sunday they found her daughter alone in her bedclothes and the mother's bed undisturbed.

Neighbors and friends at the time said the young mother was unlikely to have left her daughter unattended.

Miss Damon's father, Roy Damon, lives in Ellicottville, and a brother, James, lives in Salamanca. Angie, now 13, lives with relatives.

After stopping at the father's home Monday, Burrell remarked: "I have to believe that it's a welcome satisfaction for a family to know what did happen after nine years."

The woman's remains were found near Narrows Road in the Town of Napoli about three miles southwest of the Village of Little Valley Saturday morning by a farmer. The secluded spot in the woods was about half a mile from the farm house but only a few yards from Narrows Road.

The site was 100 yards from the spot where a psychic took police nine years ago during a futile search for Miss Damon.

Cattaraugus County Coroner Rex McIntosh said he hasn't officially ruled the death a homicide, pending results of toxicology tests.

But the body was found in a shallow grave, he said: "She couldn't do it herself."

After nine years, the skeleton will be difficult to analyze for cause of death, he said, but investigators also have other clues from the site.

"I'm going to let them release that information," said McIntosh. "I don't want to tip their hand."

Cattaraugus correspondent Bert Freed contributed to this report.

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