Exhumation may help solve murder mystery

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

There wasn’t enough tissue left on her hands to get even a single fingerprint. All that authorities knew for certain 30 years ago was what this Jane Doe was wearing when her body was dragged from a cistern on April 21, 1981. That and that she had apparently been strangled.

The secrets of her life and death were buried with her in an unmarked grave on private property off Homeless Road.

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However, this morning representatives from the county sheriff’s office, coroner’s office and prosecutor’s office were at that gravesite to disinter the body in hope that DNA technology can bring an identification to this 30-year-old mystery.

“This is the only unidentified person in Lawrence County,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “Certainly there are other deaths and other cases unsolved. But this is the only unidentified dead person.”

About two years ago, the county coroner’s office entered the available information that came from the original autopsy and police reports into the National Unidentified Persons Data System (NamUs.) The goal was to find the woman’s identity.

So far 13 women have been excluded by circumstantial evidence as being the dead woman.

“If we could take some DNA samples and get a better description entered into website, just maybe we could get an identity,” Lawless said. “The hope would be for someone to find a loved one.”

What is known is that on April 21, 1981, children playing in an isolated area by McKinney’s Creek near Dobbstown saw something floating in a well. The water was drained and the body found, so decomposed an initial examination could not determine the gender.

Further examination revealed it was the body of a woman, clothed in a dark pullover sweater, lightweight shirt, a heavy cable-knit red sweater, gray slacks and socks. She had apparently been manually strangled with the body weighted down with a concrete block.

Her age was estimated as being between late 30s to early 40s and the body could have been in the cistern as long as October 1979.

After the morning exhumation the body was to be taken to the office of Mark Hammond, Boyd County coroner. There it was scheduled to be examined by Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, a professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati and a board-certified forensic anthropologist.

“She will be doing a four-to-five-hour examination and her examination will be on the bones, to look for any deformity in the bones, prior breaks and size of the bones,” Bill Nenni, deputy coroner, said. “Hopefully she can come up with the stature of the person, as to build.”

Dr. Ralph Beadle, deputy Boyd County coroner and forensic dentist, will examine and make a record of the teeth. There will also be an effort to collect DNA from the body. If that is successful, it will be entered into the national database. Then the body will be re-interred.

If DNA leads to the identity of the woman, the next step would be to determine the circumstances of her murder and possible identity of the killer.

“You start piecing together,” Lawless said. “She doesn’t seem to be a local person. When we get the DNA back, if a hit becomes available we will move forward. … You don’t want any murder go unsolved. The most important thing is I wouldn’t want to be the family of a missing loved one. It is more for the comfort of the family.”

Additional information about the case can be found at the NamUs website at www.namus.gov. Case number is 6259. Anyone with additional information may contact the sheriff’s office at 532-3525 or the coroner’s office at 532-3309.

“If we are able to make an identification, it brings closure to some family,” Nenni said. “The scientific means to be able to do this just weren’t available in the 1980s. Those means are available now.”