Wis. community buries unidentified crime victim
WAUPUN, Wis. – A local funeral home offered flowers. The town's high school donated a wreath. The county found the cash to pay for the casket. Strangers came to mourn.
Nobody here knows who she is, but everyone agreed on one thing: She deserved a proper burial.
Three years ago, a slain girl's body was found partially submerged in a freezing creek. Despite years of investigative work, her identity is still a mystery, and sheriff's deputies and staff in the medical examiner's office have become a family of sorts.
They've tried to learn who she is. They've done research and tests to try and find who killed her. Unable to track down her real family and convinced they'd done all they could with the body, public officials and some two dozen residents banded together to lay the town's "Jane Doe" to rest Wednesday.
"We knew this day was coming and we were hoping beyond hope, I guess, that we would find somebody that would know her," said sheriff's department head chaplain Don Deike, who spoke at the graveside ceremony. "So the department as well as the coroner ... decided to become her family for her. That is really what it all boiled down to."
Only the basics are known about the girl found by hunters on Nov. 23, 2008. She's around 15 to 21 years old, about 5-foot-1 and estimated to weigh between 110 and 135 pounds. Her hair was light brown or dark blond and between 12 and 14 inches long. She was wearing light blue jeans, and a black top with pink trim. They also know she was knock kneed or pigeon toed.
Law enforcement has looked at more than 200 leads, obtained and tried to match DNA, commissioned a computerized reconstruction of her face, started a Facebook page and sought the help of forensic anthropologists, entomologists and dentists.
They don't know how she died, but Lt. Cameron McGee, who has been working the case from day one, said it was definitely a homicide. Why deputies think that is something he's keeping close to the vest for the sake of the investigation. They've determined she was likely dumped in the creek in August.
"I think we are her only hope right now. In fact, I know we are her only hope," McGee said. "Without us, who is going to speak for her?"
He attended the service and afterward said the funeral doesn't change anything.
"This investigation does not stop and continues to move forward and will continue to move forward and won't stop until we get some type of an answer," he said.
The service at the cemetery lasted 10 minutes. Some members of the community who attended carried flowers to pay their respects to a girl they'd never met.
"I have daughters and her parents weren't here and somebody should have been here for her," Waupun resident Christ Clark said.
Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner Doug Kelley, who also attended, said officials decided to go ahead and bury her after determining they'd done all the research and tests on her body they could.
McGee said her information has been entered into various national databases of missing persons. The case has been featured on "America's Most Wanted."
Deputies tracked down where her clothes were sold by the labels but discovered that they are not only sold locally but in other states.
The sheriff's department even had to get a local judge to grant them permission to create a Facebook page after Facebook removed her profile, saying Jane Doe is not a real person and violated policy.
McGee said the best lead of the more than 200 came two years ago when authorities got a call from an East Coast police department with a missing woman who fit the description and had a boyfriend with Wisconsin ties. But the DNA didn't match.
The most recent tip came Monday from the Menomonee Falls police department who thought they might have a lead, but the dates didn't correspond with the Jane Doe case.
"It's very frustrating and you'd think with today's technology that we would have had her identified long ago and far away and we would have been onto other things," McGee said. He said there are 40,000 cases of unidentified people nationwide.
Until she's identified, she will stay at the Cattaraugus Cemetery. The county paid for the $2,300 for the casket, vault and other burial costs.
Kohls Community Funeral home in Waupun donated the casket flowers and a laminated marker that has pink roses and "Jane Doe's" composite picture. It reads, "Jane Doe laid to rest Dec. 7, 2011." The Waupun High School donated a wreath.
John Dixon, 57, drove about 10 miles to attend and had tears in his eyes during the service.
"I'm just paying my respects, she deserves this much ... she died in this county, it's the least we can do for her," he said.