For 34 years, Kim Atkins has been waiting, hoping that her younger sister would walk through the door one day.
Atkins’ sister, then 16, went missing from their Richmond apartment in 1986. Earlier this year, dismembered remains initially found in a Chesterfield County landfill just two months after the girl disappeared have been identified as Christy Lynn Floyd.
“I know it sounds stupid or just silly, I always did think that maybe she was coming home,” Kim Atkins, 52, said Wednesday at a news conference with Chesterfield County police, who are looking for leads about what happened.
It’s not the closure the family hoped for, said Atkins, who was 17 when her sister went missing.
“But I’m glad to know,” Atkins continued as tears took her voice.
“My sister didn’t deserve to be put in the garbage,” she said.
The remains were discovered Aug. 7, 1986, by workers at the Chesterfield landfill who were unloading trash from a former School Street transfer station in the city. Floyd had gone missing about two months earlier.
Police at the time believed that the dumpster had been originally picked up behind what was then Emrick Chevrolet, which was less than 2 miles from their mother’s apartment in the 2300 block of Grace Street, Atkins said.
But no one made the connection back then — Atkins had just given birth to her second child a few days after the gruesome discovery and never heard about it.
At the time, Richmond police dismissed the disappearance as a runaway, Atkins said. Chesterfield police said their city counterparts helped in the initial and subsequent investigation, but the city had no file on the case.
“They never took it seriously,” she said.
After a lengthy search, police recovered only a leg, a foot and a torso from the landfill. Missing were the victim’s head and hands, complicating investigators’ ability to identify the teenager at the time. Police said then that they believed the body might have been stored for up to two months in a cool, insect-free environment.
An autopsy ruled the death a homicide by some “undetermined violence,” detectives said. According to news accounts at the time, police thought the slaying was committed by a psychopath who had sawed off the body parts that were missing.
“It’s taken some time for science to catch up to where we need to be to identify her,” Chesterfield police Capt. Jay Thornton said at Wednesday’s news conference.
“At the time that she was discovered, we did coordinate efforts with the Office of the Medical Examiner, as well as the Department of Forensic Science to develop the DNA profile of those remains, and that’s kind of where the case stopped,” Thornton added. “We didn’t really have anything to compare it to back then. The case has lagged, and become, for lack of a better word, an unsolved cold case.”
A DNA profile was developed by DNA Labs International, a private forensic lab in Florida specializing in DNA extraction from degraded and challenging samples, such as bones, fingernails and rootless hair shafts.
Then, last year, detectives sought the services of a Reston company called Parabon NanoLabs, which specializes in DNA phenotyping. That’s a process of predicting physical traits and ancestry from DNA evidence and genetic genealogy.
Parabon developed a “snapshot” of what they believed the person would have looked like “based on age, sex, facial characteristics, race, on down to the freckle,” Thornton said.
In March, Chesterfield police released the snapshot, which immediately produced tips.
“Within 30 minutes of getting that press release, the phone literally exploded with phone calls from all over the country,” Detective Chris Humphries said.
One of the first calls they received, Humphries said, was from a retired Richmond detective, Mark Williams, whom the Atkins family had reached out to several years ago after he had solved a cold case in the city. Williams connected the family with the Chesterfield detective.
Atkins’ 31-year-old son, Dustin Atkins, provided police with a DNA sample, hoping it would match the aunt he never met. Additional forensic testing by the Florida lab confirmed that the remains were those of Floyd.
“Within 24 hours, we knew,” said Dustin Atkins, who lives in Staunton. His head hung Wednesday as he said: “We wanted her alive.”
Kim Atkins never stopped looking for or talking about her sister, said her husband, Clay Atkins. He met only Floyd once, he said, but he and his wife and their son, Dustin, spoke of Floyd with such familiarity that “they all know her.”
The family submitted her story to “America’s Most Wanted” television program, put her face on milk cartons, and made flyers that they posted at truck stops.
Though they were close in age, Atkins said she felt maternal toward her younger sister.
“She was my world,” said Atkins, who now lives in Swoope. “My sister was just the sweetest, kindest person.”
But she was also quiet and naive, Atkins said.
They had lived in a foster home in Lexington, but two years before Floyd’s disappearance, they ran away, Atkins said.
Atkins left first to find their mother, and once she had, she returned to bring her sister to Richmond, where they lived with their mother.
They frequented a popular 1980s teen dance club called The Cellar Door, located near the intersection of Broad Street and what was then the Boulevard. Floyd also worked at the Hardee’s nearby.
Atkins and police are hoping someone might remember her from those days and be able to provide some tips as to what might have happened. Atkins provided police with a photo of Floyd and an off-and-on boyfriend she remembers only by the name “Chris.” Detective Humphries said he is not a suspect or a person of interest, but police would like to speak with him.
Atkins said that about two weeks before she vanished, Floyd had met another guy while working at Hardee’s. Atkins said she can’t remember his name but that he was 18 and that Floyd had run away with him the night before she ultimately disappeared.
Atkins said their mother called the man’s mother threatening to press charges if her underage daughter wasn’t returned.
The next morning, Floyd was returned by the unknown 18-year-old’s older brother, Atkins said. Atkins said she went to pick up breakfast and when she returned home, her sister was gone.
“The alley door was open, and I never saw her again,” Atkins said.
Atkins said police investigated the young man at the time of Floyd’s disappearance.
While Atkins sometimes blamed herself and thought maybe her sister had run out, “she wouldn’t have been gone this long,” Atkins said. Now she knows: Her sister didn’t stay away because she wanted to.
“Somebody did something bad to her,” Humphries said.
Anyone with information regarding this investigation is urged to call the Chesterfield County Unsolved/Major Investigations Group at (804) 717-6024.