Rock Town Weekly

Jane Doe Might Be Missing Mother
Daughters Search Leads To Decades-Old Case

February 14, 2008
Rock Town Weekly
BY Pete DeLea

HARRISONBURG - Nancy Austin flipped through countless photos of unidentified bodies over the years in search of her mother who went missing in 1976.

After years of research, Austin might have found out what happened to her mother, who vanished when she was 2 months old. A body that was found in Rockingham County nearly three decades ago in a wooded area fits the description.

An artist's rendering of what she probably looked like was publicized following the discovery of the body.

"I was searching online and came across the picture," said Austin, 31, of Keene, Texas. "There's just something about the picture that sticks out to me."

Mother Vanished Following Fight

Her mother, Georgia Darlene Nolan, disappeared from Harlan County, Ky., on Nov. 28, 1976, at the age of 30. She was last seen with her estranged husband, according to the Doe Network, a volunteer organization that assists police in cases involving disappearances and unidentified victims.

Kentucky police say she exited a vehicle on an interstate near the Kentucky/Illinois border following an argument with her husband.

She was never seen again.

Since then, Austin said there's no been trace of her mother and her Social Security number hasn't been used since she went missing.

"It's horrifying going to bed every night thinking your mom's a homicide victim," said Austin.

Years Of Searching

Austin started looking for her mother about a decade ago despite pleas from some relatives to move on with her life.

"A lot of people were very hurt but they wanted to go on and forget it. But I couldn't," said Austin. "The last eight years I've been searching for her have been tormenting."

Last September, Austin came across the case of a woman found in Rockingham County.

Hunters found the skeletal remains in a shallow grave in the George Washington National Forest in Rockingham County on Nov. 14, 1980.

There were no obvious signs of foul play such as broken bones, stab or gunshot wounds, said Sgt. Felicia Glick of the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office. Glick said there were few clues but a few things were found at the scene: a dime from 1964, a heart-shaped necklace and a piece of slip-type garment.

Despite the few clues, Glick said the case was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.

"Somebody couldn't have jumped into a grave and covered themselves up," she said.

By analyzing the bones, investigators determined the body was a woman, probably in her 20s. They also were able to tell that she had given birth during her life.

The case remained cold for years until Austin made contact with law enforcement.

A Possible Match?

Glick received an e-mail from a Kentucky State Police detective in September inquiring about the case and stating someone believes they might be related to the person found in the forest.

After some discussion with Austin and the detective, Glick said there was a possibility it was the missing mother.

"The age range matches, the height range matches, the fact that she had children ... that kind of all sticks out," said Glick.

Glick said a bone fragment from the woman's leg was sent to the FBI lab in Quantico for testing. As of Tuesday, the FBI is still working to extract a DNA sample from the bone.

Austin then went to a police station in Keene. There, a police officer took a cotton swab and swabbed the inside of her mouth to get a DNA sample. That sample was sent off to a lab to be analyzed so it could be compared with the DNA from the unidentified body.

Even though a match would mean her mother was a murder victim, Austin said she's eager to know what happen to her mother. Even if she's dead.

"I'm not afraid of the truth," she said. "I'm scared of not knowing."

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or [email protected]