To say bye: Family, friends to hold memorial for one-time Jane Doe

To say bye: Family, friends to hold memorial for one-time Jane Doe

Longmont Times-Call
By Pierrette J. Shields

WESTMINSTER — Although Dorothy Gay “Dot” Howard never met most of them, 27 people from across the country and overseas will this week bid their farewells to a relative or unmet friend who had lain anonymously in a Boulder cemetery for 55 years.

For so long known as Boulder Jane Doe, Howard was given back her name last year thanks to her sister’s DNA. This weekend, Howard’s sister Marlene Ashman and 26 other family members and friends will host a memorial service to say the goodbyes to her that they could not in April 1954, when she died and circumstances prevented law enforcement from finding out who she was. Boulder residents had a funeral then for Jane Doe.

Ashman, who lives in Arkansas, said she decided to keep her sister’s body in Boulder because moving her to a family plot in Arizona would have risked having her forgotten, since so few family members live there now. Her sister has a new family in Boulder.

“The people here knew her as Jane Doe, and they will still visit her grave,” she said Wednesday in Westminster, where family and friends are gathering for the weekend memorial. “She will be better off if I leave her here.”

At the prodding of local historian Silvia Pettem, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office reopened the Jane Doe case in 2004. At the time, she remained unidentified and her murder was unsolved.

Several CU students found her nude and badly beaten body was discovered on the banks of Boulder Creek near Boulder Falls on April 8, 1954. Animals had rendered her face unrecognizable and investigators at the time could not match her to any missing women.

Howard had gone missing from Phoenix in March 1954. She ceased contact with her family, and Marlene Ashman said she, her other sister, Bobbie, and their parents long assumed Dot was alive somewhere and simply wanted no more contact. Marlene Ashman said she never forgot her sister and anyone close to her always knew she had two sisters.

“My sister Bobbie died in 2005 … we both firmly believed she was still living,” she said.

Michelle Fowler, Dot Howard’s great-niece, made the vital connection between Boulder’s Jane Doe and the great-aunt she never met. Fowler was looking for Howard on the Internet and came across the Boulder Jane Doe story on the Doe Network. She contacted Pettem and Boulder County Sheriff’s Detective Steve Ainsworth and persuaded Ashman to provide a DNA sample. Ashman said she offered the sample to eliminate her sister as a possible identity for Jane Doe and was floored when the match came back.

“I just tried to deal with it as best we could,” she said.

Ainsworth believes Dot Howard was the first victim of serial killer Harvey Glatman, who was known as the Lonely Hearts Killer and was executed in California.

The family and Ainsworth on Wednesday embraced and made plans for a memorial this weekend.

Marlene’s husband, John Ashman, said despite the horrors the family learned last year about Howard’s death, there is some comfort in knowing that Dot did not abandon her family by choice.

“The bottom line was it wasn’t that she never wanted to see her sisters or her mom and dad,” he said.

Family and friends are gathering in Colorado to remember Howard this week. The Ashmans are from Arkansas, and are already joined by friends from Scotland. Nine states are expected to be represented at the weekend memorial.

Carrie Ashman, Marlene and John’s daughter-in-law, said Wednesday she never believed that Howard had run away from the family.

“Personally, I felt there was no way that was going to happen,” she said, noting that the closeness, warmth, and love in the family she married into is not something people flee.

Marlene Ashman said she is grateful to the people of Boulder, Ainsworth and Pettem for caring for her sister for all of these years.

A public memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, where Howard is now buried under her real name. Her legacy as Jane Doe remains. Her old headstone is part of the new one.

Marlene Ashman said her parents and sisters would have wanted her to have the memorial for Howard.

“I am doing this as much for my parents as I am for my sister because this is what they would have done. This is what they would have wanted,” she said. “Words can never express my gratitude for the people of Boulder and the people who have taken care of her for all of these years. It is just awesome.”

Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273 or [email protected]