Somebody’s Daughter: The Ongoing Effort to Identify Jane Doe

Courtesy Washington State Patrol Sketch of unidentified woman

She is believed to be Native American and a hitchhiker who died in 1991

Her black hair is pulled back, revealing a face with high cheekbones, dark eyes and full lips. She’s depicted wearing a feather earring in her right ear. Based on her physical attributes and the accounts of those who last saw her, she is believed to be Native American.

On security video footage, she is seen getting into a semi at a truck stop in Tacoma, Washington. She’s believed to be a hitchhiker. It’s believed to be the last image of her alive. It was May 14, 1991.

Within a couple of hours, the woman and the semi’s driver, Lester Harvel, 26, of Missouri, were killed in a fiery crash on southbound Interstate 5 in Kalama, Cowlitz County, when Harvel’s rig collided into the back of a semi that was stopped because of road construction. Any identification she may have been carrying was destroyed.

“This is somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter,” Washington State Patrol Detective Greg Wilcoxson told the media in January 2014. Three years later after that statement – and 26 years after her death – the woman is still unidentified, known simply as Jane Doe.

Connie McCloud, cultural director of the Puyallup Tribe, has been following the case for years, in prayerful hope that the woman can be identified and her family can heal. She knows that cold case investigators have visited truck stops in hopes of getting leads – that’s how the video surveillance footage was found. McCloud was there at Longview Memorial Park and Cemetery on January 8, 2014, when the woman’s body was exhumed in order to obtain a DNA sample and to create a reconstruction of what she may have looked like.

According to Washington State Patrol, forensic artist Natalie Murry sketched the facial reconstruction based on skull and bone structure, as well as physical features provided by witnesses who saw the woman before the crash.

McCloud said identifying the young woman has proven to be a daunting task; because of the fire from the crash, fingerprints could not be obtained. Her dental information was charted and entered into missing persons databases, but has yielded no leads. Information about her case is available online on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database and the International Center for Unidentified & Missing Persons online database.

If the young woman is Native American, as is believed, there’s no guarantee she was enrolled, so she might not be on various Indian country missing persons list, McCloud said. And it’s not known if she hitched a ride with Harvel in Tacoma or elsewhere.

Harvel’s route was traced using fuel receipts, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database. “[He] departed Missouri on May 7, 1991, drove through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Oregon before arriving in Washington on May 14,” according to the database. “The load was dropped off on time and the trucker was heading south to Portland when his truck rear-ended another vehicle after pulling onto Interstate 5 near Kalama … [Harvel] was known to pick up hitchhikers, but no one knew of anyone riding in his semi that day.”

So there’s no guarantee the young woman is from the Northwest. “She could be from anywhere,” McCloud said.

State Patrol cold case investigators reissued the forensic artist’s 2014 sketch on August 8, in hopes of getting new leads that can help them identify the woman. The woman’s DNA, collected when she was exhumed in 2014, was sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification; ICMN asked for results of the test on August 12, but had received no response as of August 15.

Here’s what authorities know:

The woman is believed to have been between 20-29 years of age. She stood 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 4 inches, and weighed 115-125 pounds. She was wearing a black cowboy vest and a gray top, possibly with pink in it.

She had a dark complexion and high cheekbones, and severe scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. She was no stranger to the dentist; she had had a root canal in her top front left tooth, fillings in seven teeth, and was missing her molars. She had a slight gap in her front bottom teeth.

If you have information, contact one of the following: Detective Sgt. Stacy Moate, (425) 401-7745, Cowlitz County Coroner, (360) 577-3079; Washington State Patrol Communications Center, (425) 649-4370.

The case number is 00-004956.

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