For nearly 40 years, the police have been trying to put a name to a face.
She is known as Jane Doe of Chautauqua County. Her body was found on the morning of December 6, 1983 in a drainage ditch along Highway 17.
The evidence strongly suggests that the woman was from Western Europe and was likely the mother of at least one child. Beaten and beaten, her identity remains as much of a mystery as to how she ended up in the town of Ellery.
“She may not have been born here or lived here, but she died here and all of the deputies and investigators who have worked on this case since the time she was found on the highway the treated as if she were one of us”, said Tom Di Zinno, an investigator with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office Unsolved Crimes Unit.
Using a process known as forensic genetic genealogy and word of mouth, Di Zinno hopes to solve one part of the mystery before tackling another.
“First objective, to reunite Ellery Jane Doe with her family, to bury her with dignity and her real name”, he said. “Objective two, find and pursue the murderer.”
A MAGNIFICENT DISCOVERY
Jane Doe would be between 30 and 37 when she was killed. She is described as white, 5ft 4in tall and weighing around 128lbs. She also had brown eyes, a wart above her left eye, a mole behind her left ear, and a scar on her throat.
Found by a truck driver, the woman was shot four times – two in the chest, one in the back and one in the mouth.
Came to be known as “Jane Doe” for lack of identification, the woman was found face up and “partially dressed” without purse, shoes, jewelry or personal effects.
Di Zinno said the damage to the woman’s skull also indicates blows to the head.
“Between the blows and the shooting style, the murder was personal”, he said. “Did she see something she shouldn’t have seen or say something that offended anyone?” We believe it may be possible.
LINKS TO EUROPE
About a week ago, the Unsolved Crimes Unit released new information in Jane Doe’s case.
Using forensic genetic genealogy – also known as investigative genealogy – the FBI was able to link Jane Doe’s DNA to the Netherlands, Belgium and West Germany.
She has long been suspected of being European. Among the evidence: her clothing included a V-neck camisole that originated in Italy; she had expensive dental work with gold fillings that led police to believe she was not local; and she also had an IUD, a form of contraception, made overseas and available in Canada at the time, but not for distribution in the United States.
In general, forensic genetic genealogy involves comparing DNA from crime scenes or unidentified remains to known genealogical databases. In the case of Jane Doe, Di Zinno said DNA markers in her profile indicated ties to the Netherlands, Belgium and West Germany.
The use of forensic genetic genealogy as a crime-fighting tool is not without criticism due to privacy concerns. In fact, many genetic genealogy databases — including Ancestry and 23andMe — prohibit law enforcement from participating for investigative purposes.
“Genetic genealogy is only as good as the potential database,” said Di Zinno. “But DNA technology has improved and databases like Canada’s missing person and European and European individual databases have developed since the last attempt at comparison.
“Part of the effort to generate publicity is to reach media outlets in areas where we have evidence Ellery Jane Doe may be from or traveled to.”
DISCOVER THE CODE
A note written on letterhead from Blue Boy Motor Lodge in Vancouver, British Columbia was found in Jane Doe’s pocket. The note contained three lines of scribbled letters followed by five numbers.
Di Zinno noted the speculation that surrounded the mysterious note. The theories, he said, include Canadian Mounted Police badges with the letters identifying the barracks as well as batch numbers of carpets made in India and shipped to Canada.
Two other theories, however, seem to make more sense.
Dr. Kathleen Arries, a well-known Erie County forensic anthropologist who helped with the case, matched the numbers – 24233 on the first line of the note, 68301 on the second line and 74261 on the third – three Canadian airline telephone numbers.
This could be significant, as Di Zinno said Jane Doe was likely a traveler.
“Its origin is Europe” he said. “We have an indication that she spent time in Canada and ended up here in New York.”
However, another recently discovered possibility is that the numbers correspond to the postal codes of British Columbia and Ohio.
LOOKING FOR A BOOST
Di Zinno and Tom Tarpley, another investigator with the Unsolved Crimes Unit, have become accustomed to raising interest in unsolved local homicides and missing person cases.
Through Facebook and press releases, the couple hope renewed public attention will provide possible leads in the Jane Doe case.
Last week new sketches of Jane Doe were released along with photographs of the clothes she was wearing when she was discovered.
Di Zinno said he received “several interesting and documented” missing person stories to follow.
Investigators are comparing the DNA of at least two individuals. A match would indicate a family connection.
“One thing we learned, which generated the new sketch, one of the comparable people who disappeared the same year, from Europe, lived in the United States for a short time,” said Di Zinno. “But the time away from her family was significant enough that living relatives did not feel they could comment on the sketch of a 35-year-old woman as they remembered her as a young woman. We’ve collected the family’s DNA and are in line for a comparison.
“So I guess the answer is that DNA alone can’t do the job, but in combination with message delivery it could be the verification tool we need.”