July 25, 2008 -- A woman who went missing more than a week ago after she made a drug deal in Northern California was found dead at the base of the highest bridge in Oregon Wednesday night, police said.
Three hikers found the body of 23-year-old Michelle Ashlee Dickson and contacted authorities around 8 p.m. Her identity was confirmed Thursday.
"The identity of the deceased female found Wednesday at the base of Thomas Creek Bridge on Highway 101 between Brookings and Gold Beach has been positively identified as a missing woman from Del Norte County, Calif.," said a Thursday afternoon press release from the Oregon State Police. "The investigation is being treated as a homicide."
An autopsy will be performed by the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office to determine how Dickson died. Authorities in Oregon will work with the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office in a joint homicide investigation.
Dickson's body was found at the base of the Thomas Creek Bridge, a 345-foot-high span above a deep ravine along the Oregon coastline. It is the highest bridge in Oregon, according to state officials.
The bridge is roughly 40 miles from Crescent City, Calif., where Dickson's car was discovered the morning of July 16 engulfed in flames. She was last seen the night before when she met her 27-year-old "friend" Josiah Miller, of Arcata, Calif., in Crescent City to sell him three ounces of marijuana.
Miller was officially named a suspect in Dickson's disappearance Wednesday.
By his own admission, Miller was among the last people to see Dickson. He has told police that he met her about 10:30 p.m. on July 15 on U.S. Highway 101 to buy drugs from her, Det. Sgt. Steve Morris, a spokesman for the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, told ABCNews.com.
Dickson's 2003 hatchback Honda Civic was found about 8 a.m. the next day engulfed in flames in a turnout area in Crescent City, a coastal community tucked into Northern California's redwood forests about 25 miles south of the Oregon border. The vehicle was about 40 yards off the highway on the ocean side, Morris said.
The Del Norte County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team, armed with cadaver dogs, boats and helicopters, had searched the area four times in the last week without finding any sign of the missing woman.
"I'm appealing to this young man," Morris said Wednesday before Dickson's body was found. "We've got a lot of big question marks in his timeline and we're working to nail it down."
Police said Miller has described himself as a friend of Dickson's but denied knowing where she was.
After initially talking to police, he has invoked his right to an attorney. Attempts by ABCNews.com to reach Miller were unsuccessful.
Suspicion of Miller's possible role grew when a police search of his truck found what a preliminary test identified as a protein sample. Investigators are waiting for further test results to come back from a crime lab.
"We've done some chemical tests that indicate there was protein on the seat," Morris said. "We've sent it off to make sure it's blood."
If it is blood, authorities must then determine whether it came from Miller, Dickson or someone else.
Investigators for the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office collected the protein sample after obtaining a search warrant to search Miller's vehicle. The truck, Morris said, had been cleaned and stripped of some of its seating upholstery before the search. The evidence was collected from the foam lining beneath. Authorities also seized Miller's computer and some clothing.
Miller told police that he met Dickson to make the drug buy the night before her burning car was recovered. According to Del Norte County investigators, Miller said that he grew paranoid about having the marijuana in his truck after he left Dickson and pitched it into a river.
Investigators have not yet confirmed reports placing Miller in Crescent City after 10:30 p.m. the night of the exchange.
Dickson's family pleaded Wednesday for any information that might help find the woman.
"My daughter turned 24 on Saturday," Sandra Davis, Dickson's mother, said in an interview with ABCNews.com before her daughter's body was recovered. "What do you say about your child? She was a beautiful woman."
Davis, intermittently in tears, described her daughter as a community college student who lived at home and worked a pair of waitressing jobs. She had a pit bull puppy that she would not just leave behind, Davis said, and she loved her car. "It was her baby."
Davis knew nothing about her daughter selling drugs and said that she is fearful the marijuana deal could somehow cast her daughter in the wrong light.
"I don't want people to focus on the fact that she possibly made a stupid mistake," Davis said. "It doesn't lessen the fact that someone may have hurt her."
Davis sent an e-mail to ABCNews.com after learning the news about her daughter. "We are thankful for the closure this will bring our family," she wrote.
While authorities felt from the beginning of the investigation that Dickson likely fell victim to foul play, the recovery of her body will allow police to focus their attention on a murder case rather than finding a missing woman.
Morris said that authorities want to pin down the exact relationship between the missing woman and the suspect. He also said that investigators have looked into the missing woman's background and have been unable to find any evidence that she was involved in drugs beyond marijuana, or other potentially dangerous lifestyles.
"Like all human beings, she had a little bit of a dark side," Morris said. "I think this was her other side. She was trying to make a little bit of gas money by selling a little bit of marijuana."
Del Norte County Sheriff Commander Bill Steven said that Miller remains a suspect in Dickson's death.
"A lot of people have asked us if he is truthful and our answer is 'To a point,'" Steven said. "We've got him connected to his location in Arcata. We've got her connected to her location in Oregon. We want to put her with him, and him with her."