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Leads followed in ‘Belle’ case

Clay model sparks interest


Law enforcement continues its detective work as it tries to find the identity of the woman now referred to as the “Belle in the Well.”

In 1981 the remains of a woman was pulled from a cistern near Dobbstown, her body weighted down with concrete blocks tied to her with panty hose. An autopsy performed at the time showed that the body could have lain in the cistern as long as 1979.

Since no one came forward at the time her body was found authorities surmised she was homeless. The body was found with a bus ticket and a key to a Greyhound Bus Terminal locker. Two years ago, County Coroner Dr. Kurt Hofmann put the data from that autopsy into National and Missing Unidentified Persons System to see if there would be a match with any missing women listed. In June the woman’s body was exhumed to take DNA samplings to add to that data.

At the end of April Hofmann and Sheriff Jeff Lawless unveiled a clay model that is supposed to give an approximate model of her face.

Since then calls have been coming into the sheriff and coroner’s offices suggesting possible identities from the Tri-State and as far away as Texas and Florida.

“Nothing has panned out,” Lawless said. “There are ones that we can dismiss right off the bat. Some that could be close we have asked a relative to donate some DNA.”

The most that authorities believe they can say for certain is the body is of a woman, Caucasian and 5-foot-4. They estimate her age at between 40 to 60 years old. The age is based on the condition of her teeth and amount of dental work in the mouth.

One identification suggested is Sheila Gail Wears Pierce, a woman from Point Pleasant, W.Va., who was last seen on June 24, 1978.

“Her time frame fits,” Bill Nenni, chief investigator for the coroner’s office, said. “We have looked at her before and have talked to the state police in charge of the case. She has always been someone we thought was a possibility. She now has some DNA in the FBI files. I have requested a one-on-one match.”

What could exclude Pierce is that she was 24 when she disappeared and investigators believe the unidentified body is of a women much older.

“With our girl all her lower molars are missing,” Nenni said. “All of that bone is all healed and in good shape. She had one upper molar that has super-erupted.”

That happens when there are no teeth on the lower jaw to bite against the upper ones. That causes the upper molar to grow longer than it would normally.

“By the fact she doesn’t have those lower molars and the upper tooth is super-erupted is the reasoning we are saying she probably is older than 30 years,” Nenni said. “It is not a real exact science, but it gets us in the ball park.”