Barbara Pletcher had been looking forward to the camping trip.

Two weeks on the rugged Uncompahgre Plateau would do her a world of good, she thought.There would be plenty of time to renew acquaintances with relatives she hadn't seen for a while. And there would be ample opportunities to explore the plateau's picturesque aspen-shrouded meadows and winding trails.

But the trip didn't turn out the way Pletcher planned.

Along the way she stumbled upon a murder mystery.

It was hot, dry and windy on the Uncompahgre Plateau on July 7, 1994.

Pletcher, along with her brother, Kenneth Smith, nephew Jerry Smith, and their wives, were camping that day off Divide Road.

The group had spent the morning combing several paths near the campsite for rare rocks and unusually shaped wood.

By late afternoon they were ready for a new adventure.

They decided to drive about six miles to Windy Point, which is one of the highest spots on the plateau.

Pletcher had been to Windy Point several days before.

She knew the sinking afternoon sun and the view from the steep 200-foot cliffs would make for spectacular photographs.

"It's a beautiful overlook," said the Hotchkiss resident enthusiastically. "On a clear day you can probably see into New Mexico."

The group marveled at the view from Windy Point for more than an hour. After taking a few final photographs, they started the 50-yard hike back to their truck.

Pletcher suggested the group take a path other than the one they had used to reach the overlook.

The recommendation proved fateful.

Pletcher, who was in the lead, had only walked a short distance when she made a gruesome discovery.

Half of a jawbone, containing several teeth with gold fillings, was lying on the ground underneath several thick aspen branches.

"I picked up the bottom part of the jawbone," she recalled. "I knew it was human because of the teeth."

Pletcher quickly brought members of the group to the spot. They soon made another discovery a few feet away.

A human skull was lying in the dirt.

"It was scary," Pletcher recalled. "I have found a lot of things on the ground but never a skull."

Pletcher often wonders about the victim's identity, which to this day hasn't been determined.

"Someone must be missing that person," she said.

The group placed the jawbone and skull in a plastic bag and carried them back to their campsite so the items wouldn't be further disturbed by wild animals.

Pletcher attached a note to a post near the campsite that fronted Divide Road in hopes of alerting a passing U.S. Forest Service ranger.

The note was inscribed with an arrow pointing to the campsite and included a simple message.

All it said was, "Rangers. Need help!"

The following day a forest ranger and a Montrose County Sheriff's Office detective accompanied Pletcher's group back to Windy Point.

More human remains were recovered from the site, including part of a spinal column, a scapula bone and a humerus bone.

A team of scientists and investigators who are volunteers for Necrosearch International also combed the spot and found other bone fragments and strands of reddish brown hair that had been scattered over a 40-yard area, probably by wild animals.

But there was more. Part of a woman's black vinyl belt was also discovered near the bones.

It was the only clothing item found, indicating the victim may have been dumped at the site. No identification was found near the remains.

It appeared the Montrose County Sheriff's Office had a homicide on its hands.

Lt. Greg Hiler, who joined the Montrose County Sheriff's Office as chief investigator in 1995, has been involved in five murder cases during his 15-year police career.

None have been more frustrating for the 37-year-old detective than the Windy Point case.

"It gives me a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach," Hiler said matter-of-factly. "Sometimes I wonder what I could do that hasn't been done."

Roy Taylor, an agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Montrose, describes the Windy Point case as unusual.

Usually when human remains are found someone comes forward or information becomes available to identify the victim, he said. When that doesn't happen, law officers have no choice but to wait.

"It comes to the point where you have to put it on the shelf and hope," Taylor said.

The key to solving the Windy Point case may lie with a forensic examination of the remains performed by Dr. Thomas Canfield, who is the medical examiner for Montrose County.

The examination has provided a few clues to the victim's identity but has yielded nothing about the cause of death.

The victim is believed to be a white female between the ages of 35 and 45, who had reddish brown hair and stood 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 7 inches tall.

Holer has dubbed the woman, "Jane Doe of Windy Point."

He believes the woman was killed at another location, brought to Windy Point possibly in the fall of 1993 and then covered with tree limbs to conceal her whereabouts.

The recovery of the vinyl belt and the absence of other clothing items indicates the woman may have been nude when she was dumped at the spot, Hiler said.

Gold-crowned teeth recovered from the jawbone may help yield the woman's identity if they can be matched with dental records, he said.

DNA testing, which is often used in murder investigations, can't be used to help identify the woman because her remains are too decomposed, Canfield said.

In 1995, Canfield shipped the skull to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, where a forensic facial reconstruction was completed.

A sketch of the reconstruction has been widely circulated by the Montrose County Sheriff's Office but has not produced any substantial leads.

Canfield keeps the woman's skull and bones in an evidence locker at Montrose Memorial Hospital just in case information about her identity becomes available.

Hiler tried but failed to match the woman's physical description to missing females from the Western Slope.

He has also entered the woman's physical description into several national law enforcement data bases, including one maintained by the FBI.

The last tip Hiler received regarding the woman's possible identity came two years ago.

A Missouri police officer who was searching for a missing woman came across the Windy Point victim through the law enforcement data base.

Hiler determined the physical characteristics of the two women didn't match. Since then, the homicide investigation has grown stone cold.

Hiler can't help but wonder if the murderer may have been someone who lived in the area and has killed before.

He considers convicted killers David Middleton and Eugene Smith possible suspects.

Middleton, a former Miami cop, is on Nevada's death row for the slaying of two Reno-area women. He is also suspected of murdering 18-year-old Buffy Rice Donohue of Montrose, police have said.

She was reported missing Nov. 21, 1993, which is reportedly around the same time the body of the Windy Point victim was dumped. Donohue's body was found in 1995 in San Miguel County about 60 miles southwest of Montrose.

The fact the bodies of Donohue and the Windy Point victim were left in remote areas leads Hiler to believe Middleton may be responsible for both killings.

Smith was convicted last September of second-degree murder and sentenced to 48 years in prison for the 1993 killing of 14-year-old Cindy Booth of Delta.

Police contend Smith killed Booth at his home and then disposed of the body at an unknown location. Booth's remains haven't been found.

"Eugene Smith can't be eliminated in the Windy Point case," Hiler said.

Hiler keeps a thick file on the Windy Point investigation in the bottom drawer of his desk in the Montrose County Sheriff Office's new digs in the Montrose County Justice Center.

He refers to the file whenever a new tip floats in. Lately, the file hasn't been opened much.

Hiler hopes to jump-start the investigation soon with the help of several law enforcement agencies.

In July he will make a presentation on the case to members of the Colorado Homicide Investigation Association during the group's annual meeting, which will be held in Montrose.

Hiler hopes the association will offer some insight that will help him catch the Windy Point victim's killer.

"Up to this point," he said, "someone has literally gotten away with murder."