Identity of Jane Doe still a mystery
June 6, 2008
by Sarah Day
BLUE EARTH — Last Friday marked the 28-year anniversary of the day a woman was found strangled to death in a ditch near Blue Earth. No one thought identifying her would take so long.
Faribault County Chief Deputy Scott Adams is covering what ground he can.
Last winter, when the Sentinel ran a series on Jane Doe, it found the original fingerprint cards for her misplaced in the case file. Local Jane Doe advocate Deb Anderson had been trying to get previous investigators to find and submit the fingerprints to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
In January, Adams and Sheriff Mike Gormley began calling the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI to find out how to get the prints into the system. Eventually, both a hand read — the way fingerprints were read before computers — and a digital scan were attempted.
A few weeks later, the FBI called Adams and said the prints would be sent to the Criminal Justice Information Services complex in West Virginia because the prints were of poor quality. The only fingerprint the original investigators were able to get from Jane Doe was the left thumb. Her body had been discovered about three to five days after her murder and was badly decomposed.
This week, Adams received another call from the FBI, but there were no fingerprint matches.
“It went faster than I expected with them because of their case load,” Adams said.
The time lapse between the fingerprint cards re-discovery and the scanning had a lot to do with the amount of time Adams can spend on the case. Current cases must come first, and his recent promotion from investigator to chief deputy also increased his workload. But Adams is committed to the case, and when he has spare time, Jane Doe gets the limelight.
The Doe Network
The fingerprint cards aren’t the only thing Adams has been working on. Several weeks ago, he got in touch with Anita Moyer, area director and media representative for Minnesota with the Doe Network.
She sent him a list of 14 missing persons submitted as match possibilities. Two had been ruled out previously and Adams has eliminated seven more because of non-matching dentals or appendectomies. Jane Doe had an appendix at the time of her autopsy.
Moyer said her work with the Doe Network is strictly voluntary. She is a point of contact for law enforcement, medical examiners and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, with the Doe Network acting as liaison.
“It can be very, very involved,” she said. “Basically an area director has to have the commitment to follow up on these cases. These missing people, these John Does and these Jane Does, they all deserve our attention.”
Any interested citizen can submit a possible match between an unidentified person and a missing person to the network. From there, a panel reviews the submission to determine the likelihood of a match, ranging from highly improbable to highly probable.
The panel format is used so law enforcement isn’t bogged down with unnecessary match submissions. However, missing persons and unidentified bodies can only be added by law enforcement, and missing persons have to be missing for at least nine years.
Moyer had been trying to get a contact at the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office for several years, but because of a miscommunication that connection wasn’t made until a month ago.
“It’s a rather new relationship,” she said. “It seems to be working great. I sent (Adams) any possible matches for the Blue Earth Jane Doe. And he is going through case files that have been passed down to him to see if they have been ruled out so we can get some definite answers on possible matches.”
Adams also is working with Moyer to get Jane Doe entered into NamUs — National Missing and Unidentified Persons System — created by the U.S. Department of Justice. NamUs was launched in July 2007. In 2009, its databases will be connected and people will be able to search for matches. For more information on the Doe Network, visit www.doenetwork.org
Also in April, Adams took Jane Doe’s X-rays and Jacqueline Lerman’s dental X-rays to dentist Roger Grandgenett in Blue Earth for his opinion on the two.
Former Chief Deputy Jerry Kabe, the initial investigator on the case, had always believed Lerman, from New York, was the Blue Earth Jane Doe. Kabe had taken Jane Doe’s X-rays to two local dentists who, at the time, believed they matched. But when Kabe took it to the medical examiner, he disagreed.
Adams sought a comparison again, as a final check. Grandgenett noted that Jane Doe had several fillings that were smaller than Lerman’s. Grandgenett said there were similarities between the two, but a person’s fillings aren’t going to shrink. Jane Doe’s wisdom teeth also had smaller roots.
Adams learned from Grandgenett that the two also differed in age, Lerman being older than Jane Doe, although he couldn’t say by how much. Adams said Grandgenett believed Jane Doe was in her early 20s.
A topic that has come up quite a bit from Deb Anderson is the exhumation of Jane Doe’s body for isotopic analysis, which can determine a narrowed geographic region a person is from. She also would like to see a clay reconstruction, which would require the skull.
Adams isn’t sure an exhumation would be beneficial. Gormley hasn’t made a decision yet. He was waiting to see if there was a match with the fingerprints.
“The thing now, I’m not making this decision by myself without consulting the state,” Gormley said. “I need to see what their thoughts are on it and exhuming it. It’s something I haven’t done before.”
Gormley also must weigh the cost. There were offers several years ago that would have made it possible to exhume Jane Doe at no cost to the sheriff’s office, but Gormley doesn’t know if all of those offers still stand.
He also said there needs to be a plan of who will take the body and what exactly will be done with it.
“We’re not just gonna dig up a body and say, ‘Oh this is cool,’” he said. “We’ve got to respect the body and do it the correct way.”
A decision on whether to exhume the body would ultimately include the sheriff, county attorney and Adams.