ANCHORAGE - They found her body on a Sunday morning five years ago, wearing a purple tank top and silver necklace, dumped at the edge of Ship Creek where it runs through Anchorage's warehouse district.
They identified her from her tattoos and her jail record: Doris Ann Hainta, 34, a longtime street hooker carrying a double load of drug and alcohol addiction. Everybody called her Sunny. Someone had strangled her.
Homicide investigators worked the slim leads they had as hard as they could. A witness saw a blue van backing to the edge of the creek and a man dumping something there. Police took plaster casts of tire tracks and crawled around on their hands and knees taking paint scrapings from a post and hoping to pick a bit of evidence from the muddy ground.
They spent weeks talking to prostitutes and their customers, checking alibis and stopping blue vans.
After a while, the investigation lagged. She probably was killed by someone who bought her services, police figured, someone with no other connection to her, the toughest kind of homicide to solve.
But Anchorage police had an ace up their sleeve. Hainta had been raped or had consensual sex shortly before she died, so if the police ever identified a suspect, they had a DNA sample.
Last month, technicians at the state crime lab matched the DNA to a man in North Carolina. And on Monday the Anchorage district attorney charged Eugene Poirier, 33, with first-degree murder. An arrest warrant with bail set at $1 million will be faxed south and served on Poirier at the Nash Correctional Facility, where he is doing 22 years for murdering a teen-age girl after leaving Alaska.
Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Bachman said Alaska will seek to extradite Poirier and try him for Hainta's death. Charging documents filed Monday say he has confessed to strangling her in the back of a blue van he used in his carpet business.
If Poirier is convicted here, he will be returned to North Carolina to serve out his sentence there then returned to do his Alaska time, Bachman said.
The case was solved because police officers stationed at opposite sides of the continent made an extra effort and because in March the Alaska State Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory began using DNA technology capable of making positive identifications.
There was a backlog, but the Hainta results were certified in September and Poirier was a match.
Anchorage police sent an investigator to North Carolina. In an office at the prison, Poirier denied knowing Doris Hainta. Then Anchorage detective Scott Jessen laid the DNA report on a table and explained what it meant. "This line is semen from Doris," he said. "This is your blood. They match."
Eventually Poirier admitted he killed Hainta in a struggle, police said.
But Jessen isn't finished. Poirier spent a lot of time driving around the country. With two murders known, he wonders, what are the chances of more unsolved cases out there?
Both victims were strangled, both were Native American Hainta was Kiowa. That's the kind of detail the FBI puts in a computer. Jessen has asked them to check their files.