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Body found off Coastal Trail ID'd as missing woman

Michelle Theriault Boots

Medical examiners used dental records to identify a body found near Earthquake Park Monday as a 63-year-old Anchorage woman missing since early August.

Police said Wednesday that the remains were those of Letitia Ann Baxter, a lifelong Anchorage resident last seen leaving her sister's house near downtown Aug. 3.

The body, found near the coastal trail, was badly decomposed.

Detectives had warned it could take weeks to identify but the availability of a forensic dentist made a match possible quickly, said Anchorage Police Department spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said.

Medical examiners are still trying to determine a cause of death.

Baxter's body was found in a densely wooded area north of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and east of Postmark Drive in West Anchorage on Monday, police said.

KTUU-Channel 2 reported Wednesday that the woman's longtime boyfriend Gerhard Hesse discovered the body himself on Monday. Hesse, KTUU reported, had been searching the area trails Baxter was known to frequent since her disappearance.

Police will only say that a trail-user found the body.

Baxter was last seen leaving her sister's house near the Delaney Park Strip on the afternoon of Aug. 3 at about 1:15 p.m. on foot. She said she was going to run errands downtown.

It was a sunny day, her brother-in-law Bill Cross has said, and Baxter had stopped in for a chat so routine that later on the family had a hard time remembering what it was she was wearing. She and her sister and brother were close, sharing holidays and meals and frequently stopping by each others' houses, he said.

Baxter was an avid trail user who skied, walked or biked most places, her family said. Her brother-in-law described her as a self-sufficient, street-smart and seemingly contented woman who had traveled the world, owned a farm in Hawaii in the 1980s and once drove to South America. She and Hesse had been together for more than 20 years and spent time traveling and hiking in the Chugach Mountains, Cross said.

The Baxter family has deep roots in Anchorage: Letitia Baxter's parents Ruth and Von Baxter homesteaded in Anchorage in the 1940s. Baxter Road, Baxter Bog and Baxter Elementary are named after the family.

In the nearly eight weeks Baxter was missing, police and family members searched parts of the Anchorage trail system, focusing on the area between Goose Lake and Cook Inlet.

Hesse and Cross did not answer calls on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, before an identification was made, Cross said the family had gotten a call from an APD detective with news that a body had been found.

"In one way you hope it isn't her," he said at the time. "In another way, families with missing members get no closure at all."

Waiting to hear whether the body was Baxter's, he said, was "a river of tears with a spark of hope."

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News