Human remains found by Modesto police in a shallow grave near Groveland last week are those of Dena Raley-McCluskey, who disappeared eight years ago, the Stanislaus County district attorney's office announced Tuesday.
Dental records confirmed the identity of Raley-McCluskey, who was 36 when she disappeared in October 1999, prosecutors say.
Russell Jones, 47, of Modesto was charged with murder at an arraignment Monday and remains behind bars with bail set at $2 million.
Authorities had told family members that a positive identification could take forensics experts three weeks, said Donna Raley, Raley-McCluskey's stepmother.
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She said officials need to examine the remains to collect evidence and determine the cause of death before investigators will release the body to the family.
Raley said it could be about two months before the family can have a Christian burial for her stepdaughter. "That's OK; at least she's home," Raley said. "This now closes the door on phase one, which was finding Dena and bringing her home."
She said the family now can focus on the upcoming murder trial.
Raley-McCluskey's mother, Barbara West, said the district attorney's office called Monday evening wanting to pay a visit to West's home. She was driving to Sonora, so a prosecutor gave her the news as her other daughter, Sonja Raley-Johnson, held a cell phone to her ear.
"I was amazed at how fast that was," West said about the six days it took investigators to positively identify the body. "I was really blown away."
West said she regularly visits her mother's burial site to talk to Raley- McCluskey because "there is no other place. This means we finally can put her to rest and take flowers to her instead of to my mother's grave."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.