April 30, 2006, Denver Post, Cold Case Helps Solve a 2nd Mystery, by George Merritt

Stoneham, Mass. - Months ago, as Theresa "Teri" Naimo was dying from a lingering illness, her best friend asked if they should search out the seven siblings Naimo had left behind more than a half-century earlier.

"They've disowned me," Naimo told the friend, Helen Ferrante, in Massachusetts. "They won't want me back."

About 50 years earlier, in the farming village of Maywood, Neb., Charles Embrey offered every possession he owned at public auction to finance a fruitless search for his runaway daughter, Twylia May. He and his wife, Adeline, spent their twilight years traveling highways in California and sleeping in a van.

When the Embreys died, brothers, sisters and grandchildren picked up the search.

Last week, family members in Nebraska learned their quest was over: Twylia and Naimo were the same woman, but she had died three weeks before.

"I think it's great that we finally have some closure," said Jennifer Kitt, a great-niece who spearheaded recent efforts to find Twylia. "But it is really just so sad that we were just shy of our chance to really be reunited."

The void has existed so long for the Nebraska relatives that it is difficult to even know what to call the woman they have sought. For more than 70 years, they have known her as Twylia, but this is a woman who changed her name to "Teri" and lived a full life far from the open grasslands.

Meanwhile, loved ones in Massachusetts had no idea about relatives out west. Naimo apparently told only Ferrante about her far-flung family.

Teri was married for 45 years to Joe Naimo, who started an engineering company, loved golf and grew tomatoes. He died recently. The two made a home in a yellow house that Joe Naimo's parents had lived in on a handsome New England street.

Twylia had grown up in a poor farmer's family - sleeping with all seven of her brothers and sister in the same bed.

The details of why Twylia left and changed her name to Teri (she took the maiden name of Keenley) are still mysteries. After initially helping folks in Nebraska, Ferrante has stopped returning phone calls.

On Saturday, Ferrante's son Dennis Campbell - who did not know of the connection - would not talk about the woman he referred to as "Aunt Teri."

"I talked to my mother," he said after learning of the search for Twylia, "and she said we are not to talk to anyone."

Whether the two parts of this woman's life are ever joined, Kitt is sure she never would have found her great-aunt if it was not for investigators in Boulder trying to solve yet another mystery.

In April 1954, a woman was found in Boulder Canyon beaten to death and stripped naked. Authorities called her Boulder Jane Doe.

In 1996, a Boulder County historian took an interest in the case. Jane Doe's body eventually was exhumed, her skull reconstructed and, from that, an image of her face emerged.

Twylia's family contacted the historian after learning about the case. Twylia had left Nebraska about a year before authorities found the Boulder body.

Last year, Boulder police took DNA samples from family members in Nebraska to see if they matched the unknown woman's. They didn't, but Kitt, who has called dozens and dozens of women across the country named "Twylia," kept in touch.

Last week, a Virginia researcher whom Kitt met through those ties, Micki Lavigne, got a hit.

An Internet search revealed an obituary for a woman it said was the daughter of Charles and Adeline Embrey. Ferrante - the one person who knew of her friend's past - had written the clue that connected the family.

The Boulder detective working on the Jane Doe case helped Kitt confirm the connection.

"Jane Doe may not have a name, but if it wasn't for her ... I never would have found Teri Naimo," Kitt said.

Kitt was able to speak with Ferrante last week, but most of what she knows about her great- aunt is penned in her obituary:

"Mrs. Naimo enjoyed crafts, piano guitar & gardening," Ferrante wrote. "She was a wonderful neighbor, caregiver, helper to all and surrogate mother."

Back in Nebraska, two surviving sisters were thrilled to know their loved one had a full life.

"I did not want to live the rest of my life thinking that my sister died the horrible death" that Boulder Jane Doe died, Mildred Garner said Thursday. "I'm happy we found her. ... The worst feeling of all was that Mom went to the grave not knowing."

But her relief was mixed with frustration. Garner has admitted to waiting by the phone to hear from her sister.

"Fifty-four years is a long time to hold a grudge," she said. "Why didn't she call?"

To this day, it's not clear why Twylia left. There was an argument with her father. Kitt learned from Ferrante that Naimo said her father wanted her to marry an older man.

What is certain now is that their sister was happy. On an Internet message board for Naimo's mortuary, Dennis Campbell and others said good-bye to her.

"Aunt Teri," Campbell wrote, "I'm glad we got to spend some time together the last few days and go thru some memories. I love you and will miss you! Dennis."

Staff writer George Merritt can be reached at 303-820-1657 or gmerritt@denverpost.com.