M.E., OSBI team to ID Oklahoma's John, Jane Doe's
M.E., OSBI team to ID Oklahoma's John, Jane Doe's
SARAH STEWART reportsIt's the ultimate mystery, almost one hundred dead bodies and state officials have no idea who these people are: row after row of unidentified skeletons kept at the medical examiner's office.
Updated: February 18, 2004 10:11 AM
This is the fourth cold winter a Watonga mother has struggled with the mystery surrounding her son.
"He always had those fat little cheeks," she said.
Even at age 36, Donna Marshall's son was her baby. But all she has left of him now are pictures. Tracy Marshall was reported missing in August of 2000.
"You keep looking and you keep waiting," she said. "You know that phone's going to ring."
Marshall calls it a horrible feeling, living not knowing what happened to a loved one.
"You know, a million things go through your mind," she said.
Could Marshall's answers be found in nearly 100 boxes?
"Each one of these boxes will contain all or part of the remains that have been, you know, recovered," said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator with the medical examiner's office.
They're identified only by a 7-digit number. They're Oklahoma's unidentified dead.
"If it were only as easy as it is on television, you know, we wouldn't have any unidentifieds," said Rowland, who adds his office has roughly 94 unidentified bodies from 1972 to the present.
"We get a lot of bodies that are dumped near the interstates with Oklahoma being the crossroads of America," he said.
And without a national clearinghouse for the unidentified deceased, it can be a daunting task to assign a face a name.
"You can't just search against every known missing, you know, white female age 25 to 30 years old in the United States," he said. "It would be totally impossible."
When a Jane or John Doe comes in, Dr. Jeffery Gofton says the search for identity often begins beneath the skin.
"This individual has multiple cavities that have been filled in the past," he said. "Some people have their appendix removed. Some people have their gall bladder removed."
They're the unique scars we all accumulate throughout life that can provide valuable clues in the search for a positive ID. But, even more importantly, doctors say someone needs to be searching for the missing person.
"If you don't have that suspicion that somebody's missing from society, you really have nothing to compare it to," he said.
Canadian County sheriff Lewis Hawkins has his own Jane Doe, his most perplexing unsolved case.
"The survey crew was doing a survey for right down along through here and when they discovered the skull, it was face up," Hawkins said. "It's the only one that we haven't identified the person that existed."
January 5, 1990, half of her complete skeleton was found in a creek bed one mile north of I-40, next to an intersection called "Dead Man's Corner".
"I actually found that lower jawbone that had the teeth in it," Hawkins said. "From that, though, we've been able to eliminate lots of people as to possibly being this person."
But despite a facial reconstruction, the woman's positive ID has eluded officials who can't even investigate the homicide they believe happened, until they know the victim.
"I would really like to, if nothing else, just to be able to say that this person gets buried properly," he said. "It's sort of, you know, for lack of a better term, having a skeleton in the closet."
It's a frustrating fact for the medical examiner's office who, after our calls, undertook a new venture with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
"Our office and the Oklahoma City Bureau of Investigation are now trying to merge our database of unidentified bodies with their database of known missing persons," Rowland said. "And, hopefully, try to be able to go back and identify some of these old cases.
"It's like these individuals just didn't exist," he said. "Which isn't true. They did."
Sometimes, families do get closure. After almost three years, a man drilling an oil rig found Tracy Marshall's remains. Donna says if it weren't for a car accident Tracy was in, he might have never been identified. His facial surgery left behind dental records that were compared to the remains.
She now has a gravesite to visit, complete with the tree she kept lit the whole time he was missing.
"And then I brought it up here so that I didn't have to look at it and it wasn't lighted anymore," she said. "I knew where he was."
Marshall calls herself lucky, and said her heart goes out to the dozens of families who don't know the fate of their loved ones.
"I'm one of the lucky ones and that sounds terrible," she said. "But I'm one of the lucky ones, because I do know where my son is."
Some unidentified bodies, if they are not already skeletons, are buried in the county where they were found. But the medical examiner's office can get access to them if a lead ever surfaces involving their identity.
Re: M.E., OSBI team to ID Oklahoma's John, Jane Doe's
Well, good for them. I'm sure alot of people out there have the greatest respect for them doing this. I hope they identify every last one of them.
Re: M.E., OSBI team to ID Oklahoma's John, Jane Doe's
Who's Jane Doe?
Mystery still surrounds burned body
The Edmond Sun
EDMOND — Investigators say a soon-to-be-released forensic reconstruction may help identify a body found Dec. 5 in a charred field northeast of Edmond.
An Edmond Police officer discovered the body of a young woman in a pile of burning leaves and debris after an early morning grass fire. Although the case is still open three months later, the woman’s identity remains cloaked in mystery.
In an interview last week, Detective Chris Cook of the Edmond Police Department said the girl’s description was sent to agencies across the state and surrounding areas. Several possible leads came in, but none of the missing people matched the characteristics of the body found in Edmond.
Early information from the Police Department said the girl was probably in her late teens or early 20s, about 4 feet 8 inches tall, weighing about 80 pounds. She is believed to be Asian, and she had her lower two wisdom teeth removed within the last year.
She may possibly have been pregnant at an earlier time, police said.
“I also made contact with surrounding colleges and universities and gave them what I knew,” Cook said.
“I asked them to check into any missing students, and I asked their presidents or deans to talk to student leaders and ask that students be on the lookout for their friends, to report them if they were missing.”
Although the word went out to colleges virtually state-wide, nobody came forward to claim the young woman.
Kevin Rowland, chief investigator with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, said one of the reasons “John Does” or “Jane Does” remain unidentified is the person is not a resident of the area where their body is found.
“A lot has to do with publicity getting to the right place,” Rowland said last week.
“The reason we don’t get some of them identified, even through reconstruction, is that nobody knew them. They’re just not from around here.”
“It depends on where they’re from,” he said. “Maybe they’re an illegal (alien), and possibly nobody has actually missed them. Maybe they don’t have a close family. At college age, kids drop out of college all the time.
If they don’t have a strong family connection, nobody’s going to miss them.”
In the case of the woman found in Edmond, Cook said he believed she was possibly from a middle-class family.
“The dental care would lead a person to believe that she was from a medium socio-economic status,” he said.
Rowland said the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office is preparing the skull so a forensic artist can create a reconstruction.
“We’re a good two to three weeks away from reconstruction, though,” he said. “Some of this work is very time-consuming.”
In the meantime, the local Jane Doe’s body remains in the custody of the Medical Examiner. Bodies have been kept at the facility for as long as 10 years.
In the event she does not get identified, Oklahoma County will be responsible for her burial.
“She’ll be buried in the county where death occurred,” Rowland said. “We don’t allow the county to cremate an unidentified body, in case new evidence is ever needed.”
Rowland’s office is currently working on about 100 cases involving unidentified bodies, some from as far back as 1972.
“Considering that there are 33,000 deaths each year in Oklahoma, that’s not bad,” he said. Rowland said he normally sees between five and 10 unidentified bodies each year.
“Being here in Oklahoma, at the crossroads, we don’t always know where they come from,” he said. Bodies have been found here from as far away as Pennsylvania.
“You would think that younger people (like Edmond’s Jane Doe) would be easier to identify,” he said, “but in my experience, the younger they are, the more difficult it is to discover who they are.”
Cook said it is not yet known whether the young woman had been sexually assaulted before her death.
“When they did the autopsy, they would collect samples to see if there was sexual assault. That was sent to OSBI, which will take several months,” he said.
The backlog at OSBI is due to their enormous case load, he said.
Officials hope the new reconstruction will enable someone to identify Edmond’s mystery woman. If the new artwork doesn’t produce results, though, Rowland still has a plan.
Four times in the past, he’s shown reconstructions of Jane Does on the popular television show “America’s Most Wanted.” Although none of those four was ever identified, Rowland remains optimistic.
“If we don’t find her through local media outlets, we’ll try AMW,” he said. “Hopefully when we get the reconstruction done, we’ll have a more accurate picture. Maybe it’s somebody who lived here and the rest of the family is overseas. You just never know.”
Cook is hopeful that new reconstruction artwork will provide a name for the unknown woman.
“We just hope to have more information coming up soon,” he said.
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