Unidentified Female, Located 2003, Pennsylvania
Unidentified White Female
The victim was pulled from the Allegheny River near Fox Chapel Yacht Club, in O'Hara, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on October 24, 2003.
The woman's badly decomposed body was wrapped in a blue blanket bound with duct tape and with a plastic white Walmart bag was placed over her head.
She died of a drug overdose, (probably Heroin), and she also had Phenobarbital, a sedative, in her system. Unknown if there were track marks on victim due to decomposition. The body showed no signs of beating or other trauma.
A check with the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the body could have traveled past locks or dams. It could have been dumped upstream, possibly as far away as New York.
Articles/ O'Hara Jane Doe
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)
November 2, 2003
Allegheny authorities use science, detective work to identify dead
Author: David Conti
She had no identification in her pocket, no tattoos or piercings on her body. The police officers and firefighters who fished her out of an inlet in the Allegheny River in O'Hara did not recognize her. She didn't match any missing person reports in the area.
Authorities don't know how yet how the woman died. They only know that she had to have been dumped in the inlet -- a barrier would have kept her body from floating in from the river -- and that someone covered her carefully and tightly in a blue blanket, wrapped duct tape around her legs, waist and chest and put a plastic grocery bag over her head.
Each year, the county coroner's office is asked to establish a cause and manner of death for 2,000 people. Most of those cases involve natural deaths, and officials said they can match a name to the great majority of the faces because of the wide array of identification tools at their disposal. There are a few cases, however, that confound them. The unknown woman from the river is only the sixth body in the past seven years to go unidentified.
"These are worse than the unsolved," Allegheny County police assistant Superintendent James Morton said of unidentified bodies like the one found near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club on Oct. 24.
"We can't return her to her loved ones. We can't even start our investigation until we find out who this person is."
"Usually we can work closely with police to determine identification through their investigation, or through fingerprints," said Joseph Dominick, chief deputy coroner for the county. "But sometimes we need to take a lot of steps to get that I.D."
The easy ones
In most cases, identification is easy. People die in their own homes. Their driver's license is in their pocket. A relative can identify the body on the spot, or in the coroner's office.
Tattoos can help point police in the right direction. In addition to taking mugshots, the city-county Bureau of Criminal Identification photographs and indexes tattoos when someone is arrested.
When a man walking his dog in McBride Park in Lincoln Place this week stumbled upon the half-naked body of a dead woman in a picnic shelter, Pittsburgh homicide detectives noticed she had a tattoo of the word "Mad" written in Old English script on her belly. A check of the bureau's index showed Noreen Apjok had that tattoo when she was arrested on drug charges last year.
"It gave us a working identification until the prints came back," city police assistant Chief William Mullen said.
But if police can't immediately identify a body, investigators often alert area police departments of the body's discovery.
"We send out a (bulletin) to every department in a 100-mile radius so they can check their missing person reports," Morton said. "That works a lot."
In March, police found the naked body of a young woman, shot in the head along a deserted stairway in North Braddock. When the family of Dana Pliakas, 17, of Murrysville, went to their local police department to report her missing later that day, officers had a bulletin in their hands and quickly called county police. Her body was identified that night.
Confirmation is usually completed with fingerprints. The city police crime unit or the coroner's forensic laboratory can compare the prints on the dead person's hands to the bureau's database or the statewide Automated Fingerprint Identification System, called AFIS.
"There are millions of digital images of prints in there maintained by the state police," said Wayne Reutzel, the latent fingerprint examiner for the coroner's office. "It gives us a list of possibilities, and we then compare them by hand."
But there are limitations. Not everyone has a criminal record. Older fingerprints in the system may not have been inked or scanned properly, Reutzel said.
The fingerprints of the woman found in the Allegheny River do not match anyone in AFIS. On Monday, the coroner's office sent her prints to the FBI in Washington, which will compare them to a national database of criminals and federal employees.
"Otherwise we're back to square one," Dominick said.
The tough ones
Establishing identity gets progressively harder to determine when the body has been dumped in a river, burned or left to decompose. Fingerprints disappear with the skin. Faces become unrecognizable.
Science can help. The coroner's office often calls in a forensic anthropologist to examine skeletal remains and try to determine gender, race, height, weight and approximate age.
After 29 years of examining fingerprints, Reutzel has found ways to get a print from the most shriveled hand. He can soak the finger in special solutions or inject fluids into it to bring the skin and its ridges and swirls back into focus. Or the outer skin can be removed and slipped over a colleague's gloved finger and then rolled on the ink.
Dental and medical records can link a name to a body. If an autopsy shows the dead person broke his leg 10 years ago, investigators can compare X-rays taken at the hospital. But dental and medical records work only if investigators have someone in mind for comparison.
If they don't, the identity process goes back to the police.
"We check out everything we can, clothing, jewelry, old operations," Morton said. "We put the description out to the media to see if anyone recognizes them. If we can get a name, then the coroner's office can go from there."
Clothing can provide valuable clues. Dominick recalled a case from the Hill District when police found a skeleton wearing a Kordell Stewart Steelers jersey.
"Kordell had just finished his first season with the team, so we knew this man had died within the past year," he said. "That gave us a more narrow window for a search of missing person records and we were able to identify him."
While the FBI compares the fingerprints of the woman found in the Allegheny River to their database, county police hope the clothing she wore will lead them to her identity. Detectives have been checking local stores to see if they sell "Season Ticket" jeans, the brand worn by the woman.
So far, they haven't found any. An Internet search turned up a store in Louisiana that stocks them. The next step is to search missing person reports there for a blond-haired, white woman in her 30s, 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 97 pounds.
"I think we'll identify her eventually," Dominick said. "It wasn't overnight, like people see on the TV. It can take time. But eventually we or the police will learn who she is."
The Allegheny County Coroner's office has six unidentified bodies:
April 7,1996: A neighbor found the body of a newborn baby boy behind St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hazelwood. The child, dubbed "Baby Joseph" by church members, died from exposure to cold temperatures.
June 19, 1997: The mummified remains of an elderly black woman were found rolled in a carpet and tossed over a hillside along Route 65 in Avalon. She died of natural causes.
April 11, 1999: Workers at a Neville Island plant discovered the body of a newborn baby boy in the Ohio River. An autopsy showed the child died from exposure.
June 28, 1999: Contractor working on an unoccupied house on North Avenue in Wilkinsburg found the decomposed remains of a woman in the basement. She had been strangled.
Oct. 3, 2000: The skeleton of a woman was found in a flooded tunnel near train tracks at the Waterfront development in Homestead. Her cause of death is unknown.
Oct. 24: Police pull the body of a woman from the Allegheny River near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club in O'Hara. She was wrapped in a blanket and duct tape.
Re: Articles/ O'Hara Jane Doe
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)
October 25, 2003
Body of woman found in river
Author: Rick Wills and Tom Yerace
Investigators worked Friday to identify a woman whose body, wrapped in a blue blanket and bound with duct tape, was pulled from the Allegheny River near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club in O'Hara.
The Allegheny County Coroner's Office described the woman as white, 5 feet 3 inches tall and 97 pounds. She appeared to have been 30 to 40 years old.
The body was wrapped in the blanket and bound with silver duct tape wrapped several times around the neck, torso and legs, investigators said. The woman's legs were bound with duct tape and a plastic bag was over her head.
"It's definitely a homicide because of the way (the body) was wrapped," Allegheny County police Assistant Superintendent James Morton said.
Morton said investigators were checking reports of missing people.
Deputy Coroner Heather Morici said that because of dams and other obstructions upstream, the body could not have been put into the river more than 10 miles from where it was found.
The body was badly decomposed, suggesting it had been in the water at least a week, Morici said. The coroner's office has not determined the cause and manner of death, Morici said.
"We just have no idea where she came from," Morici said.
The woman was wearing Season Tickets blue jeans with an elastic waist; a long-sleeved tan shirt; size 6 white underwear and large-sized, black Basic Edition shoes, according to the coroner's office.
Construction workers at Chapel Harbor, a housing and office complex being developed by the Zambrano Corp. along Old Freeport Road, noticed the body floating in an inlet formerly known as Hidden Harbor marina.
Morton said the workers had seen an object floating in the water on Thursday but realized it might be a body only when it had drifted to the edge of the inlet. They called police about 9:30 a.m., Morton said.
Rather than try to descend the steep banks of the inlet thick with overgrown weeds and brush, county detectives went a short distance up river to the Fox Chapel Yacht Club, where the rescue boat from the Blawnox-Glenover Volunteer Fire Department picked them up and took them back to the inlet.
The body was pulled from the river about 11:30 a.m.
Re: Articles/ O'Hara Jane Doe
Allegheny County Coroner's Office struggle to identify body
Author: By: Staff; Associated Press
In the last seven years, the office has not been able to identify six people. The latest unidentified body - a woman who officials believe was blonde, stood 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighed less than 100 pounds and was in her 30s - was found wrapped in a blanket in an inlet in the Allegheny River in O'Hara Township on Oct. 24.
Officials from the coroner's office searched the woman's body for tattoos, scanned her fingerprints into a database, examined her clothing and used other tools in an effort to link a name to the body. They have nearly exhausted their resources and aren't closer to identifying the woman.
"Usually, we can work closely with police to determine identification through their investigation, or through fingerprints," said Allegheny County Chief Deputy Coroner Joseph Dominick. "But sometimes we need to take a lot of steps to get that ID."
Unlike many cases, the woman found in the river inlet didn't have a driver's license or some other kind of identification on or near her body.
The woman also did not have any tattoos, which can help identify a body. The city-county Bureau of Criminal Identification photographs and indexes peoples' tattoos when they are arrested.
The coroner's office and the police department's scan of the woman's fingerprints also came up empty. Her prints did not match any of those stored in the bureau's database or the statewide Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
"There are millions of digital images of prints in there maintained by the state police," said Wayne Reutzel, the coroner's office latent fingerprint examiner.
But the problem is, not everyone has a criminal record.
The coroner's office sent the woman's prints to the FMI in Washington, D.C., which will compare them to a national database.
In the meantime, county police are hoping the clothing the woman was wearing will lead them to her identity. She was wearing a pair of "Season Ticket" jeans, a brand that has been traced to a store in Louisiana.
Until the woman is identified, police won't really know how she died.
"These are worse than the unsolved," said Allegheny County police Assistant Superintendent James Morton. "We can't return her to her loved ones. We can't even start our investigation until we find out who this person is."
Items Related to O'Hara Jane Doe
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
November 9, 2003
PLEA FOR HELP INABILITY TO TRACE CELL PHONE CALL LEAVES POLICE FRUSTRATED IN CASE OF BLEEDING, MISSING WOMAN
Author: LORI SHONTZ, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
From the beginning, the 911 call was peculiar. At 2:08 p.m. Sept. 18, a woman told the operator at the Beaver County 911 Center that she was lost in the park and needed help.
"I'm not sure," the woman said.
The operator paused and said, "You don't know what park you're in?"
"I found this cell phone walking along the road," answered the woman, who didn't seem hysterical. She spoke slowly, softly, measuring each word.
The operator paused again. "And you have no idea what park you're in?"
"No, there's some garbage here that says Allegheny Forest. Tioga Park."
She couldn't have been in either place. Only 911 calls made in Beaver County are answered by the Beaver County 911 center, and Allegheny National Forest is not in Beaver County. Neither is there a Tioga Park. But the woman was never able to say where she was, and the operator had no way to trace the call because it was made from a cellular phone.
The call lasted 5 minutes, 10 seconds, and although two operators questioned the woman, neither was able to learn anything concrete about her or her situation, except that her head was apparently bleeding.
Weeks of investigation have only raised more questions.
Officials now know that Leslie Rivera-Hager, 37, of New Sewickley, made that phone call. And that Rivera-Hager, who may have a mental illness, was reported missing by her husband, Gary Hager, a day later.
But no one knows why she called herself Sheila Smith, the name of a childhood acquaintance; why she couldn't identify the cell phone as her own; why she gave her address as Steubenville, Ohio; or how she hit her head.
Or where, exactly, she was.
"We don't know where to begin," New Sewickley police Chief John Daley said. "It's like searching for a needle in a haystack, but we don't know which haystack."
At first, the police weren't particularly concerned about Rivera-Hager because they were told that on other occasions, she had left home for a while, then returned. Detectives for the Beaver County district attorney's office discovered that the Hagers had argued on the day before the 911 call, and that Rivera-Hager refused to let her husband into their home.
"Like all couples, they disagreed from time to time, and this was not long before she turned up missing," Daley said. "Are the two issues related? We don't know."
Many such cases are solved quickly when the "missing person" returns home. But when days turned into weeks with no word from Rivera-Hager, police issued a press release Oct. 1.
One of the operators at the 911 center thought back to the bizarre call. Although the woman had identified herself as Sheila Smith, of Steubenville, "Howard and Erma Smith's child," and said she was in town to visit "some old family homes where I grew up at Alexander Drive," the operator thought it could have been Rivera-Hager.
Several times during the conversation, the woman said she was attending the Big Knob Fair, which had actually ended three weeks before. Rivera-Hager and her husband live next to the fair site.
Armed with this information, the police obtained Rivera-Hager's cell phone records. The time, date and length of the call matched perfectly.
Police then discovered there was, in fact, a Howard Smith living at Alexander Manor in Steubenville. They called and spoke to Smith's daughter, who said Leslie Rivera had lived down the street from them 20 years ago. The family hadn't seen her since.
"Obviously, she had this knowledge," Daley said. "It had to be her."
Rivera-Hager made one more call immediately after the 911 call ended. She left a 10-second message for a friend, Deborah Bakowski, at 2:20 p.m., saying she was lost in a park with no food or water and needed help.
She didn't give her name. Bakowski recognized the voice.
"Was she delusional because of the head injury or is there some other force coming into play?" Daley wondered. "Maybe she's been without food or water for a while, and the delusions are because of that.
"Was she attacked by somebody? Hit by a car, and then she wandered off? Maybe knocked unconscious, took a lump on her head and the injury sustained caused her to not recall who she actually is?"
Operators at 911 centers are trained to elicit as much information as possible, and the two operators who spoke to Rivera-Hager tried about every trick in the book. Nothing worked.
Around and around they went, but Rivera-Hager provided no useful information. At one point, she went into greater detail about the cell phone, saying that she had found it -- in pieces -- along the road and had to reassemble it to make a call.
Asked Daley, "Why would she make that up?"
Finally, about four minutes into the call, Rivera-Hager asked plaintively, "Can you help me?"
"It's getting dark and I don't have any food or water."
This time, the operator's frustration showed. "You've got a couple hours. You've got a couple hours before it gets dark. It's only like a quarter after 2."
"Thank you, sir. I'm just scared," the woman said. Her voice sounded resigned, not panic-stricken or frantic. "There's blood on me. There's blood from my head."
Again, the operator tried to pinpoint the woman's location. Again, the woman was able to tell him only that she had hit her head and was bleeding.
"You don't have any Band-Aids in that purse?" the operator asked. "Did you look? Maybe there's a Band-Aid in that purse."
The woman said something unintelligible. She hung up or was cut off.
And that's the last anyone is known to have spoken with Rivera-Hager.
On Oct. 10, four days after cell phone records proved the call came from Rivera-Hager, the New Sewickley police coordinated a search of the woods in Beaver County with the assistance of a state police helicopter and a rescue team with dogs. Twenty-seven people searched all day without finding a trace of Rivera-Hager.
"We realized already on the sixth [that] if she was out in the woods, she was already deceased," Daley said. "We didn't need to hurry. We felt if we located anything it would be a dead body."
When a body was pulled from the Allegheny River in O'Hara at the end of October, police thought it might have been Rivera-Hager. While awaiting an identification, Gary Hager told the Beaver County Times, "I assume she left me."
On Oct. 30, the Allegheny County coroner's office determined it was not a match.
Equally frustrating for investigators have been circumstances not directly related to this case.
A 911 center can trace a call from a land line. With cell phones, however, that's impossible; the phones work from towers, not fixed sites, and operators are unable to tell where the call is coming from. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states without the capability, a problem that should be fixed with the Wireless 911 act, now in the legislative pipeline.
"It's a big concern to us," Wes Hill, the 911 center's deputy director, said, "because there's more and more users on cell phones."
Additionally, police have been unable to cold-call hospitals, asking if a Leslie Rivera-Hager or Sheila Smith is a patient there, because of the new law protecting patient confidentiality. This can make a missing-persons search more difficult.
Before the law was passed, Daley said: "We'd go through the phone book and call every hospital, asking if they had a patient by that name. Right now, we can't do that."
Police could get a search warrant if they had reason to believe that the person was in a certain hospital. But the uncertainties surrounding Rivera-Hager make that impossible.
So they released the 911 tapes this week, hoping that someone may come forward with a clue.
"It's a real puzzler," Daley said. "Even if we find Leslie, we may never know the answers. If she's alive somewhere, she may not have any recollection of this."
Lori Shontz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1722.
Re: Articles/ O'Hara Jane Doe
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
November 6, 2003
MURDER CONTACT INFORMATION ELECTION RESULTS
Column: NORTH/ALLEGHENY COUNTY
ID on body sought
Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information leading to the identification of the body of a woman that was recovered Oct. 24 from the Allegheny River in O'Hara.
Construction workers spotted the body, which had been wrapped in a blanket, plastic bags and duct tape, near the Chapel Harbor work site at 900 Old Freeport Road, near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club. The body was that of a white woman whose age was between late 20s and early 40s, was 5 feet 3 inches tall, had a medium build, blond hair and an abdominal scar from gall bladder surgery.
County police have been unable to identify the woman. The Allegheny County coroner's office has asked the FBI to compare her fingerprints with those in its national computer database.
Anyone with information about the woman's identity or the cause of her death is asked to contact Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers at 412-255-TIPS, or 412-255-8477. Crime Stoppers offers rewards of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of crime suspects. Callers may remain anonymous.
Re: Fox Chapel Yacht Club
I wonder if they investigated whether she was right here, at this place. They said she could have drifted in, from as far away as New York, but I have to think they know she could have been right there, partying at the club. She had too much, became unconscious, and someone panicked and dumped her off a boat. To me, she didn't seem dressed bad, like she could have been hanging out with the upper crowd hanging out at this yacht club.
I asked yesterday about the other drug in her system, I'm probably going to spell it wrong, phenobarbitol, and I guess heroin users take this to keep from getting sick. I don't understand why people get involved with this drug (heroin) I have never heard one good thing about it. It seems to me just like crack, meth, and ecstasy. They are just bad bad, bad. What pushes one to take that first step in consuming them I do not know. Seems very stupid.
Last edited by Starless; 01-17-2009 at 12:53 PM.
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