Cold cases remembered
By Robin Clayton
For 20 years, a young woman found dead off I-40 has been without a name. Daphne Owings is convinced that somewhere there is a family that has spent the same amount of time looking for her.
Owings, who is the North Carolina director for the Doe Network, has worked tirelessly for the seven years she’s been a part of the organization to identify the Jane Doe.
So far, she’s come up empty-handed.
The woman, who is roughly estimated to have been between 15 and 25 years old, was found Sept. 19, 1990, by a clean up crew.
Her body was about 15 feet down an embankment, east of the New Hope Church Road exit.
It was never determined how she died, although there was more decomposition around her neck than other parts of her body, leading officials to believe she may have been strangled.
Because of the state her body was in when it was found, there weren’t many physical qualities investigators could use to identify her. They know her hair was strawberry blonde, possibly frosted, and appeared to be layered to her shoulders. A three-inch scar on her abdomen indicated she had had an appendectomy.
Other than that, the only identifying clues left are the clues she was wearing, clothes Owings said she believes represent the kind of person she may have been.
While the woman was found nude from the waist down, she was wearing a pink sweatshirt with three bunnies on the front. Two of the bunnies are on bicycles; the other is on a unicycle. She also had on a Warner brand bra and white anklet socks that were very white on the bottom.
A thin yellow metal ring was found on her left ring finger and a twisted metal bracelet on her left wrist.
Owings said the clothes worn by the young woman are not indicative of someone looking for trouble.
“If she was out and up to no good, do you really think she’d be wearing a shirt with bunnies on it?” she said. “I think she was trusting, young and maybe a little green behind the ears.”
Orange County Sheriff Investigator Greg Strowd said one of the biggest hindrances to the case was when it happened.
“DNA was not prevalent back then,” he said.
While several strands of her hair were saved as evidence, her body was cremated and scattered, which was standard policy 20 years ago.
Over the years, investigators have tracked down many leads. They, as well as Owings, believe she was likely thrown from a truck, considering the location of her body.
Strowd said there reports of a woman matching her description seen days before she was found at a truck stop in Burlington.
“It’s a good possibility that was her,” he said.
But interviews at the stop turned up fruitless.
Another possibility led detectives to a taxi driver who had been charged in other deaths. But before investigators could interview him, he committed suicide.
“If he had any secrets, they died with him,” Strowd said.
Investigators have nicknamed the woman “Hope.” The name bears a double meaning - she was found near the New Hope Church Road exit, and investigators are hopeful they will one day find out who she was and how she died.
Owings said “Hope” is always in her thoughts and she’s determined to give her back her identity.
“I will always look for this girl until the day I die,” she said. “She has not been forgotten.”
Just more than eight years after Jane Doe was found, a young John Doe was found under a billboard on a service road in Mebane.
Investigators have spent 12 years trying to identify the child whose body was found Sept. 25, 1998.
He was likely between 10 and 11 years old, plus or minus a few years. Technology has led to determine he was probably of Hispanic descent.
He was wearing khaki shorts, athletic shoes with little wear and fairly new underwear. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Fifty dollars, two 20s and a 10, were found pushed down in the bottom of his shorts’ pocket.
The boy’s case has been in the news multiple times since he was first located.
That’s partly because technology has improved so much over the years, partly because he was a child and partly because he attracted the attention of an internationally-known forensic artist.
Earlier this year, Frank Bender constructed a bust of what the child may have looked like in life.
Despite the attention, investigators are no closer to identifying the boy.
“We’re a standstill,” said Orange County Sheriff Investigator Tim Horne who has worked on the case since the beginning.
But that doesn’t mean they’re giving up.
Bender was recently featured on America’s Most Wanted and the boy’s case was mentioned.
“We’ve never given up,” Horne said. “We’ve worked on this for years and put in a lot of man hours.”
Anyone who thinks they may know anything about either case can call the sheriff’s office at 344-3050 and ask to speak to Strowd or Horne. Callers may remain anonymous..