Investigators tight-lipped about cold case - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Investigators tight-lipped about cold case

Posted: Updated: July 15, 2011 06:49 PM EDT

HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)-- Investigators may be close to solving a six-year-old cold case.

On December 5, 2004, authorities found the body of Melissa Ward in a wooded area off Cash Canyon Road in Hamilton County.

The victim had been reported missing a month earlier. Now her murder has gone unsolved for years, until this week.

Investigators said a person of interest has given them information that could help close the case.

Authorities said charges were never filed in the case because there was not enough evidence.

But, Wednesday they began searching for new clues in the area Melissa Ward's body was found.

The Sheriff's Office won't release any of the new information it's received about the case.

But after some digging, we found out Melissa Ward's boyfriend was interviewed after her disappearance, a boyfriend who had been charged with assaulting her less than two months before her death.

Wayne Foster remembers the last time Hamilton County Sheriff's Investigators searched near his Lookout Valley home. He said he remembers seeing Melissa Ward's face on the news.

"When I went to the store they were saying something about they found a woman's body," said Foster.

It was six years ago that a couple looking for land near the Tennessee River found Ward's remains in the woods off Cash Canyon Road.

Janice Atkinson with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office said they had no probable cause for an arrest.

"The only thing that I can tell you is that they were looking for evidence that directly links back to her murder," said Atkinson.

Atkinson said the Sheriff's Office received new information that allowed them to reopen the case and search a familiar spot.

"It's heavily wooded and I know that they spent all day long yesterday clearing out underbrush overgrowth in order to get to where they needed to be to be able to do their search," said Atkinson.

The search ended Friday afternoon. If detectives found anything new, they're not saying.

Wayne Foster remembers a private investigator asking questions about his nephew, Gary Wayne Foster, back in 2004.

"I think they'd dated or something, you know," said Foster.

Channel 3 found that Foster was charged with assaulting Ward two months before her disappearance.

But the Sheriff's Office stops short of calling him a suspect in this case.

"If he was a viable suspect, that's part of the case file," said Atkinson. "There won't be any comments made on it because it's technically an open investigation again."

Atkinson said there is a strong chance we will hear about this case again in the future.

Channel 3 spoke with Melissa Ward's mother and sister by phone, Friday.

They chose not to comment because they don't want to compromise the investigation.

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