She was brutally murdered in May 1981, when she was about 30 years old—beaten about the head, strangled and dumped in shallow water off an isolated country road near the small town of Dixon, in Pulaski County, Missouri. She was a small woman: 5 feet, 3½ inches tall and about 130 pounds, with a slightly dark complexion, dark hair, hazel eyes and high cheekbones, leading investigators to think she might be Native.
However, without any federally recognized tribes in Missouri, there were—and are—no obvious tribal nations for the police to check with. Public appeals for information at the time of her death came up empty. Pulaski County’s “Jane Doe” remained little more than a shelved file until advances in technology and communications inspired Detective Doug Renno to reopen her case this past May on the 34th anniversary of her passing.
Missouri) Sheriff’s Department
“Jane Doe” as she appeared in 1981: In order to make her more recognizable, this artist’s rendition of her face removed some of the bruising she suffered when beaten about the head before her death. Courtesy Pulaski County
“We have to do whatever we can,” said Renno, who is a member of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. “This lady was a daughter and a granddaughter. She may have been a mother, an aunt or a sister. She had friends. She was special to someone.”
And her killer may still be out there. “Somebody got away with murder,” said J. Todd Matthews, spokesperson for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, a free Department of Justice program that offers an online database of information on victims, along with access to DNA, fingerprint, dental and other analysis. “If we want a safer society, we have to solve cases like these.”
The 1981 autopsy revealed that Jane Doe was well nourished, with no scars, tattoos or other marks, according to Renno. Unusual for someone her age, she had a full upper dental plate. She also had dental work on her lower teeth.
When she was found, she was wearing In Gear brand blue jeans, a blue pinstriped long-sleeved blouse from the brand Try 1, blue panties and a white bra labeled “Jubel,” or perhaps “Julie” (see photograph). Renno thought the label could indicate that at some point she lived in a situation where laundry for several people was washed together, then separated out.
She did not appear to have been raped, according to the first investigators handling her case, but her clothes seemed put on hurriedly, perhaps by another person. Her jeans pockets were pulled out, her panties were bunched up, and she had no socks, shoes, ID or jewelry. Renno suspects she was killed elsewhere and taken to the remote area where she was found, which kids sometimes used for partying.
Surprisingly, the time elapsed since the murder isn’t necessarily a problem for this new phase in the investigation. “Time can hurt, but it can also help,” Renno said.
He noted that federal, state and nonprofit organizations’ databases of missing and victimized persons now share information in a way they didn’t decades ago. In addition, Renno said, today’s increasingly sophisticated DNA analysis, forensic anthropology techniques and isotope testing (which examines chemical elements in the body to determine where a person was born and/or spent time) greatly improve the odds of identifying victims and tracking down perpetrators. Jane Doe’s remains are now at the University of North Texas, undergoing examinations of this sort.
Missouri) Sheriff’s Department
A name was inked onto the unidentified woman’s bra strap. People have read the name as “Jubel” or “Julie.” Courtesy Pulaski County
Modern media will also be important. The sheriff’s department did get word out when the body was found, but the scope of such an effort was limited back then. “At the time, we could hope to reach four or five thousand people if we went to the newspapers and television,” said Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long. “Nowadays, with social media and the internet in addition to traditional media, we can potentially reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.”
In any investigation, the human element is also critical. “Another set of eyes on a file can make all the difference,” said Renno. People who have information but were once afraid to come forward may now be willing to do so, Matthews added.
Renno is determined to work the case until he’s exhausted every lead. “Everyone deserves justice,” he said.
How You Can Help
If you recognize Jane Doe, or if anything in this article jogs a memory that you think might be helpful, you can email Pulaski County Detective Doug Renno at drenno@Pcsheriff2.com, text or call him at (573) 855-1069 or contact the tipline (573) 774-7948.
If you think Jane Doe was a relative of yours, you can assist in identifying her by submitting DNA (via a mouth swab) to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs. For instructions, go to the University of North Texas’s Forensic Services Unit website, untfsu.com, and click on “Submitting DNA.”
Anyone with a missing relative can get involved in finding them, including submitting DNA, according to NamUs spokesperson J. Todd Matthews. To see whether the individual might already be in the system, go to namus.gov, and check the three databases listed—“Missing,” “Unidentified” and “Unclaimed” persons.
You can also report someone missing, even if years have gone by, by registering as a public user on the NamUs website and entering his or her information, said Matthews. If you have difficulty completing the form—you aren’t sure how best to estimate height and weight, for example—a NamUs administrator will contact you to help.