Authorities in Indiana are trying to identify one of the thousands of "Jane Does" out there.
"Anger" is the word sheriff's deputies use when they talk about this murder case. But today, with the help of our Crime Watch Daily viewers, they are hoping to replace that word with a new one: "Justice."
One case has haunted Boone County, Indiana Sheriff Mike Nielsen for the last 23 years. It all began on a rural highway in the county.
"I remember seeing the page that they were dispatched to an Interstate 65 and State Road 47 in our county, and a local farmer actually found the body of a young female," said Nielsen.
"The farmer was farming in this area in this strip right here, and as he came down close to the fence line he saw a body laying next to the reeds and contacted law enforcement," said Boone County Sheriff's Captain Mike Beard. "Officers arrived to the scene here, and pulled up right there and the body was found just in the edge there."
"As investigators we believe you can pull up right here on the edge and the body was drugged down, halfway down, and then just tossed," said Beard.
"She was dumped like a piece of trash," said Sheriff Nielsen. "She's laying face down in a side ditch in water, unclothed, and just thrown out like trash. Like you got on that entrance ramp, rolled down the window and threw a cup out and it rolls down to the bottom of a ditch. That's what somebody did to her."
The dead woman's face was so badly decomposed, she was unrecognizable to anyone who might have known her.
"At this point and that point we still did not know an exact cause of death," said Captain Mike Beard.
Whether you're trying to solve a mystery in a big city or small town, it doesn't matter. That drive, that determination to seek justice for those victims courses through your veins the same way, even when you don't know that victim's name.
"We believe she was anywhere between 17 and 24 years old, she was partially clothed, wearing a tank top, a yellow tank top, and she had two tattoos that were very distinguishable, one of those was 'mom'," said Nielsen. "And we did everything we could looking through missing-person files, looking through cases in Indianapolis. We thought it might have been a local case, and we were just unable to produce anything whatsoever that would help us in any leads."
"We started looking at truck stops," said Beard. "Could this have been somebody picked up? Could this have been a prostitute picked up and discarded there, depending on the circumstances? So we started hitting a lot of the bigger truck stops in the Indianapolis area and the mid-state area here, and just to see if we could find anybody. We flooded that area with flyers, and trying to get the information out to the workers there, 'Hey, did you see somebody hanging out in the lot matching this description?'"
Without any identification, the sheriff's department gave her the name "Jane Doe," hoping someone would claim her body. It never happened.
"After about a month and no solid leads or anything, she was buried out in what we call basically our 'pauper cemetery' right outside the jail," said Beard.
Jane Doe's corpse lay in the grave for a year before the sheriff's department exhumed her body with the hope of identifying Jane Doe.
"We reached out and found resources at Michigan State University had somebody there, a professor there working on facial recognition, facial reconstruction, and so we exhumed her at that point in time to get the skull, and they actually did a clay model of what we suspected or felt she would have looked like," said Capt. Beard.
Now investigators had a "face" and hoped that someone -- a family member or friend -- would give this young woman a name or a clue as to who killed her.
"We took that and put it in our lobby and that had been in our lobby up until about two years ago, and we never did get any leads off that," said Sheriff Nielsen. "Every once in a while we'll get a department call thinking we may have identified her but it never have panned out."
It looked like Jane Doe would never have a name, or justice. Then out of the blue, one woman steps forward to help finally solve the this decades-long mystery.
"I was actually watching the evening news one day and I saw Sheriff Nielsen talking about investigating some cold cases that are currently unsolved in Boone County, and I live in Boone County, so I thought it would be a very interesting endeavor," said Dr. Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis. She volunteered her expertise to help close this very cold case.
"I believe very strongly in dignity and life and dignity in death, and part of dignity in death is having a name," said Dr. Latham.
"She reached out to us saying, 'Hey, let us help you, let us do whatever we can,'" said Nielsen.
Jane Doe's body was exhumed for a second time and handed over to the Dr. Latham.
"So they took her after we retrieved her from the ground and they took her to the university and separated her from bones and everything else," said Boone County Coroner Shon Hough. "Once they got that done, then they lay her out in every piece. All the way down to the fingernails."
"Our next step is to do a skeletal inventory," said Latham.
Dr. Latham showed what unraveling this mystery would be like with a skeletal mock-up.
"In addition to looking for diseases or any healed trauma that might help tell us who she is, we're also looking for any trauma that might have contributed to her death," said Latham. "So we're similarly going to look at every single bone in the body to look for any evidence trauma."
Dr. Latham also believes that one of the keys to finding out more about Jane Doe is through isotope analysis.
"Isotopes are molecules, oxygen or nitrogen, molecules that get incorporated into your bones and teeth after you eat or drink certain items," said Latham. "For example, the water that you drink from your faucet has oxygen in it. That oxygen will get incorporated into your bones and teeth. Now the signature of that oxygen is going to be different across the planet. So potentially we can look at the isotopes that are in her body and that will give us an indication of where she was getting her drinking water or where she was getting her food."
Even with all the resources and new allies, Sheriff Nielsen has still not been able to solve this case that has haunted him for 23 years. He desperately needs to give this Jane Doe a real name, and is asking for the public's help.
"By getting this on national television with a show such as [Crime Watch Daily] to get this out there, to let people watching your shows know 20-plus years ago maybe they saw this girl somewhere, whether at house or at school or walking on a street, just something that jogged their memory, that is what we're looking for her, and I think with your help and with the new technology advances and some of the testing we're looking at today, I believe we're going to at least identify her and perhaps solve this case," said Sheriff Nielsen.
UPDATE, Monday, December 14, 2015:
The final isotope test on the bones came back and it indicates Jane Doe was from the southwestern U.S. You can view a map of the specific region here (.PDF): EV-413_Predictions-TAP-Srbedrock_Bone