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Reconstruction of ‘Belle in Well’ face to be unveiled

A clay model of the face of the woman colloquially called the “Belle in the Well” could bring authorities closer to finding answers in a 30-year-old unidentified person case.

“It looks remarkably well,” Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “If it is what she looked like, I have seen some amazing things happen across the nation.”

On Thursday at 1 p.m. Lawless and the county coroner’s office will unveil the model.

“Through media attention we want to try to get it out to as many people as we can,” Lawless said. “Who knows where she is actually from? Maybe she made enough friends that someone could recognize her.”

In June, the body of the woman was exhumed from an unmarked grave in the northern end of Lawrence County. The coroner’s office and the sheriff sought tissues from the body to see if DNA testing could lead to an identification. They are still awaiting the results of that.

The body of the woman was pulled from a cistern on April 21, 1981, after children playing near the well saw something floating. The water was drained and the body found, so decomposed an initial examination could not determine the gender.

Later examination put her age between the late 30s to early 40s and that the body could have been in the cistern since October 1979.

The only significant evidence that investigators found at that time was a Trailways bus ticket from Ashland, Ky., to Huntington, W.Va. and a key to a Greyhound bus station locker.

Recently the skull of the woman was sent to the Franklin County Coroner’s Office where clay was built upon the bone to come up with a possible image of the woman. Now the hope is someone who knew the woman will come forward with an identification.

“Skin depth is known and they cut pencil erasers to whatever the thickness and glue to skull and fill in the missing places with clay,” said Bill Nenni, investigator with the coroner’s office. “We’ve put a couple of wigs on (the model). We don’t know what kind of hair she had … When she was disinterred, we found no hair at all.”

Two years ago information from the original autopsy and police reports were entered into the National Unidentified Persons Data System.

“The search parameters were a female missing before 1981,” Nenni said. “About 200 people were eliminated due to age, because of broken bones and dental records. If a missing person had a broken femur when she was 10, we were able to eliminate that person because she had no broken bones.”

Nenni expects to eliminate another 200 women when the DNA testing is completed.