BOONE COUNTY, Ind – Nearly three decades after a farmer found the remains of a woman on the side of a Boone County road, investigators hope they are getting close to a breakthrough.
In May of 1992, an off-duty firefighter was plowing in a field when he noticed a body face down in a few inches of water in the drainage ditch. While investigating, deputies determined that the woman had been in the ditch for between three to five days, badly deteriorating the body.
A 1992 article from the Indianapolis Star says the woman was between 20 and 40 years old. She was approximately 5’6” tall and was wearing a yellow halter top and light green anklet socks.
The woman had reddish-brown hair and several tattoos, including a cross with hearts and the word love on her chest and one of the word “mom” on her right arm, and a cross on her right hand.
While authorities at the time believed the woman was strangled, due to the decomposed state of the body it was hard to determine the cause of death.
The woman was buried in a pauper’s grave near the Boone County Sheriff’s Office with a temporary marker of “unidentified female” marking what would be her resting place. Several members of the Lebanon community attended, with police acting as the pallbearers.
She would not remain in the ground for long, however. Over the years, efforts have been made to bring new life to the case.
A November 1993 report from the Indianapolis Star reports that the sheriff at the time, along with a detective, was at a seminar at Michigan State University where they learned of the latest reconstruction techniques of the time.
The office was able to get a court order to exhume her body to remove the skull and pelvic bone. The pelvic bone would be used to help experts determine her age. The skull was cleaned and brought to Michigan where a lab technician and forensic pathologist to examine and attempt to reconstruct the face.
“DNA wasn’t even around so I think the best thought they had was to get a physical description of the female, to get that pushed out to see if anyone recognized her,” Lt. Jason Reynolds with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said.
At the time, the office distributed fliers with the reconstruction photo, hoping someone would recognize the victim. The sheriff also noted the teeth had extensive dental work.
“Some dentist’s office somewhere in this country has got those dental records,” then-Sheriff Ern Hudson told the Indianapolis Star, “So if we could get a tip or lead on her identity, we might be able to get a positive ID if we knew where to look.”
That lead never came.
The remains were buried again in the pauper’s grave until, two decades later, she was exhumed again to collect additional evidence.
“It’s always haunted me,” Sheriff Mike Nielsen told the Indianapolis Star, “the disrespect of whoever did this to throw her like a piece of trash and, second, that we’ve never been able to identify her.”
The 1993 sculpture, along with the woman’s body, were delivered to the University of Indianapolis for a fresh take on the investigation.
A team from the Archeology and Forensics Laboratory performed a forensic anthropology analysis. The team was looking to see if they could find any indicators of the cause of death for her bones.
Later that year, Crime Watch Daily picked up the story when tests out of the University of Indianapolis indicated that the woman was from the Southwest region of the United States.
In 2018, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office attempted again to use the latest technologies to put a face to the victim. Using forensic artists, they were able to create new facial reconstruction images. Again, the office hoped someone would recognize her.
“This case has haunted this office for over two decades. We desperately want to solve this horrible crime,” Sheriff Nielsen said in a 2018 Facebook post. “We owe it to Jane Doe and her family. We will never forget Jane Doe.”
Again, the case would continue to haunt them.
Earlier this year, the specter came back with another chance at finally giving a name to the 1992 victim. The office has enough DNA from the bones to collect a DNA profile.
“That is big news because we haven’t had anything like a full profile,” Lt. Reynolds said. “We’ve had partial profiles in the past but partial profiles only could exclude people but now you have a full profile, and you can actually well… what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna send it to genealogy and then try to cross-reference and see if we can find a match.”
Similar genealogical investigation has helped crack several cases, including a 1988 cold case in Fort Wayne. In that case, police used what is called familial DNA testing, which analyzes DNA samples with public genealogy data.
The office hopes they will have similar success in using genealogy data to connect the Lebanon Jane Doe with living family members. Even so, after almost three decades, the office is keeping its expectations from getting out of hand.
“We may not get anything,” Lt. Reynolds said. “Like if any of her ancestors, relatives, family aren’t in this program that we’re sending it to we may not get a match.”
The office continues to work to bring some closure to this case. Bobbi Winings, a crime scene investigator with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office hopes anyone with information will reach out.
“If you watch crime documentaries or listen to crime podcasts send us any tips that you may know of for missing persons cases that you’ve heard of that might sound familiar to our jane doe, or any suspects you may know that have some of the MOs. Cause any tip we get we will follow to the fullest extent,” Winings said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-THE-LOST or the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at (765)482-1412.