Coroner's Press Conference

Surrounded by Johnstown police detectives Cory Adams (left) and Mark Britton (right), Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees officially ruled the death of Nancy Giles, of Johnstown, a homicide. The press conference was held at the Coroner's Office, Central Park Complex, downtown Johnstown, on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

Just over a year after Nancy Giles disappeared from the Johnstown area and almost five months after her remains were found buried in a shallow grave on a hillside in the city, Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees has officially ruled her death a homicide.

A review of forensic data indicated that the cause of Giles’ death was “homicidal violence,” Lees said during a press conference on Monday morning. The coroner declined to discuss any specific details of the homicide, citing the need to protect the integrity of the ongoing police investigation.

Detective Sgt. Cory Adams said during Monday’s press conference that Lees’ ruling confirmed the hypothesis that he and his fellow Johnstown Police Department officers have held since Giles disappeared.

“From the time she went missing, we worked it as a homicide,” Adams said. “Whenever somebody just falls off the map entirely, especially when they’re close to family members and people of that sort, we have to think the worst because we can’t go back and turn back the clock and start all over again.

"From the time – I’ll say within days or weeks after she went missing – we started to think, ‘OK, this could be a homicide. Let’s start working it as a homicide.’ But to finally have that ruling as a homicide will make our job a little bit easier from this point forward.”

Adams said that Johnstown police “have executed several search warrants” in connection with Giles’ death over the past year and are currently following “a lot of leads,” but said he could not provide further details.

“We have certain areas we’re looking at and certain people we’re looking at,” he said, “and that’s about all I can say on that matter.”

Giles, 40, was reported to have gone missing on Oct. 14, 2018. Police said at the time that she reportedly left her home in the 500 block of Franklin Street to go for a walk, but never returned.

Then, on May 26, a man using a metal detector found skeletal remains buried about two feet deep just off the James Wolfe Sculpture Trail, which runs along the hillside below the Johnstown Inclined Plane. Those remains were identified as Giles’ following a forensic autopsy and examination at ForensicDx in Windber, Lees said at the time.

Adams said on Monday that the assistance of a team of forensic anthropologists from Mercyhurst University in Erie was “crucial” to the investigation.

“Obviously,” Adams explained, “we don’t go out and dig up bodies or bones on a daily basis, and that’s what they do. ... They were out within 24 hours. They had a whole team there. They did a fantastic job. They were very meticulous, slow, methodical, and it was absolutely crucial that they were able to respond and help us with that.”

Adams asked anyone with information that may be of help in the investigation to contact Johnstown police.

“Nothing is too small or too insignificant,” he said, “so if anybody has anything, as small as it might be to you, it could make or break the case for us. Anything, as minute as it might be, give us a call. We’ll follow it down.”

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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