“SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER, SOMEBODY’S FRIEND”, is the words then LaSalle County Deputy Coroner Jody Bernard had put on a gravestone she donated at Oakwood Memorial Park in Ottawa, Illinois. Buried there is a woman known as ‘LaSalle County Jane Doe’, who was found dead in a LaSalle County cornfield 27 years ago yesterday. When she was buried four months later that December, then LaSalle County Coroner Marion Osborne donated her coffin, and Oakwood Memorial Park owner, Jim Brooke donated her vault and plot. Her pallbearers were six LaSalle County Deputy Coroners. *Robert Creager* of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and Rev. Tom Harmon of Epworth United Methodist Church officiated. While investigators are pretty sure what killed her, how she got there and more importantly- who she is, still remains a mystery.
(Robert Creager was accused of child sex abuse in 2002, even though he had retired in 1998. The new Bishop of the Peoria Diocese claimed that seven priests had been recently accused in the prior two months of child sex abuse. To this day, the Vatican nor the Peoria Diocese has outright refused to release the circumstances, number of victims and the extent of the cover-up of the Catholic Church, effectively never settling the case and still covering it up to this day. For two days I debated on whether or not to even mention his name or bring it up as I did not want to take away from this case; since it was done by request. The individuals involved in the LaSalle County Jane Doe did a very noble thing. It is not her fault or the individuals involved in her burial, however, every opportunity must be taken to show the extent- that to this very day, contrary to whatever they currently propagate- the Catholic Church refuses to be transparent and settle these cases)
Headstone of LaSalle County Jane Doe, the date of discovery is incorrect. Photo Courtesy of News Tribune
In 2017, current LaSalle County Coroner Bill Wujek told the News Tribune, “We don’t have a lot of open cases, but this is one we’ve had a long time…. We need to send her home”. In fact, she remains the only unidentified adult female in the last 150 years discovered and buried in LaSalle County, Illinois, the state’s largest county.
The story of LaSalle County Jane Doe began on Friday September, 13, 1991, in Mission Township, LaSalle County, Illinois, when a farmer was combing the southwest corner of his field at E. 30th Road and White Willow Road. About ten cornrows in from the road, lying face up was the decomposing body of a white female. The LaSalle County Sheriff’s Department received his call about 1:30 p.m.
Cpl. Mike Crane of the Detective Division for the Sheriff’s Department was the lead investigator working the case and dispatched county evidence technicians to work the scene. Late August and early September of 1991 had been a particularly hot and humid. The area had almost three inches of rain in the weeks leading up to the discovery of the body and besides a couple of nice days, most of the days hovered in the high eighties and even broke into the nineties. Several days after the body was discovered, two days in a row were record highs for Sheridan and Norway, Illinois, which were the nearest cities 3 miles east and five north respectively of the body’s discovery location.
The body was severely decomposed with partial missing limbs, lying face up, had on an American Outfitter brand men’s button down dress shirt, it was white with dark pin stripes. She had a black spandex shorts and did not have on any shoes or socks. Underneath her body was a curtain with the hooks still attached. She did not have any identification, money or personal items. Investigators believe her body was taken there and dumped.
LaSalle County Coroner Marion Osborne assisted with an autopsy performed by a state medical examiner that evening. They were able to determine the woman was Caucasian, between 40 and 45 years-old, about 5’4″ tall and 120 lbs. Based on the condition of her body, weather patterns and decomposition, it was estimated she had been there around three weeks. At the time he was unable to determine a cause of death due the condition of body, however, noted that aside from partial missing limbs that he attributed naturally to local scavenging carnivores, there weren’t any signs of human inflicted trauma, such as gunshot or stab wounds and the hyoid did not appear damaged. He was confident the woman would be identified quickly, as she had breast implants, “significant dental work that included quality detailed crown work” and two medium sized tattoos. Above her left breast was a tattoo of a blue cross with a superimposed red flower. On her abdomen was another tattoo of a flower.
Most coroners and medical examiners wish they had identifiable characteristics such as these, but for the LaSalle County Coroner and Sheriff’s Department, they’ve made little progress in 27 years despite assistance from numerous top level agencies, including the FBI and Smithsonian Institute.
Both the color tattoos on LaSalle County Jane Doe, one of several identifiable characteristics.
Unfortunately, her breast implants were done at time before serial numbers were used. It was a dead end.
Based on this information, Sheriff Tony Condie had investigators immediately comb through local and then nationwide missing persons reports for leads. After going through 200 possible matches, nothing matched her specifics. It was at his point Sheriff Tony Condie and Cpl. Mike Crane decided to reach out to experts to get more details and perhaps get a facial reconstruction from Betty Gatliff of Norman, Oklahoma who was considered a leading expert in facial reconstruction.
Four weeks later, toxicology reports came back and indicated she had more than enough cocaine in her system to kill a regular user.
Coroner Marion Osborne was able to get a leading state pathologist and an anthropologist to get the information Betty Gatliff needed to do a facial reconstruction, along with the unidentified woman’s skull. He also had Dr. William Vesely of Ottawa take a look at the woman’s teeth to get some information in regards to the type of dental work that was completed.
According to Dr. Vesely, “You almost never see a crown like that”. He wrote about the case in the Illinois Dental Journal not long after she was discovered, hoping the dentist who did the work would come forward. Since no dentist did, he suspects the work was done out-of-state.
According to the pathologist in late September of 1991, she had been right-handed, had breast implants without a serial number and might have had a hysterectomy, but had never given birth or suffered a broken bone.
After Marion Osborne retired several years later due to declining health, Jody Bernard was elected as LaSalle County Coroner in 1996 and remained so for nearly 20 years until she retired in December 2015. She stated that LaSalle County Jane Doe remaining unidentified remains “one of her biggest disappointments”. It’s a case she regularly follows up on to this very day. Bernard had LaSalle County Jane Doe exhumed in April of 2013 and sent her remains along with the discovery and autopsy photographs to the University of Indianapolis Human Biology Department headed by Dr. Stephen Nawrocki PhD, so he and the graduate students could obtain a current DNA specimen, catalog the bones, teeth, photos and while seeking additional clues. FBI forensic technicians later formed a 3D clay model of her head that would provide more details than the facial reconstruction by Ms. Gatliff years ago.
The FBI clay model of LaSalle County Jane Doe made in 2015. Photos courtesy of the LaSalle County Coroner’s Office
Dr. Nawrocki and his graduate students were able to uncover a few additional clues. At one point prior to her death, she had suffered a rather serious nose fracture. It appeared she also may have suffered from a mild form of scoliosis.
The woman’s breast implants were not numbered. Unfortunately for the investigation, implants began to be numbered shortly after the woman was found. A sample of the woman’s DNA was submitted to a missing persons DNA system last year, but there was no hit.
In a News Tribune article that ran the last two years, the question that has been raised, “Does the lack of a dental and DNA match, as well as the fact no one apparently reported her missing, suggest the woman was a relatively recent immigrant to the United States?”
Coroner Wujek said “That’s an avenue to explore”.
Sadly, nearly three decades of searching missing-persons reports from all over, local and state authorities never found a match to LaSalle County Jane Doe. From the start, with breast implants, specialized dental work and tattoos, investigators thought the case would be solvable, rather quickly. This case has proven to be anything but. On a positive, just as the two generations of Coroners before him, newly elected LaSalle County Coroner Bill Wujek vowed that, “this office will keep this case open until we find out who she is”.
As of 2016, Wujek also had a couple pieces of new information, “We have also recently worked with the Smithsonian Institute to perform extensive testing of carbon isotopes within her body’s cells in an attempt to find out the general location of where she might be from. We have been told that she may have originated or lived in the northern United States or maybe Canada”.
Results of Carbon Isotope testing provided by the Smithsonian Institute show that Jane most likely spent her adolescent years in the northern United States, southern Canada or Alaska. The areas in red indicate the highest probability of origin, green is the lowest. Photo of graph courtesy of the LaSalle County Coroner’s Office
Wujek’s office also provided an age regression sketch also has been created showing what the woman might have looked like at age 13.
Images of the model, the age regression and pictures of her tattoos have been sent to the Illinois State Terrorism and Intelligence Center, FBI and INTERPOL in hopes that one day somebody will be able to identify her.
Following years of searching reports from all over, local authorities have never found a match between any reported missing persons and the woman.
Her DNA profile has been sent to the National Institute of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified decedent records.
“And remember — once we find out who she is — that information will only lead us and others to a lot more questions in this mystery,” Wujek said.
La Salle County Chief Deputy Coroner Richard Ploch agreed, “This is a puzzle that needs to be solved.”
What troubles me the most about this case, it was pretty solvable had at least one person done the right thing. While the coroner’s office nor the sheriff’s office has not been able to rule out foul play, barring a confession I doubt they’d be able to ever determine if there was. To be fair, I personally had never heard of this case even after spending considerable time going through LaSalle County records the past five years over other cases. It’s evident that this has received minimum exposure. Whoever took her body out to that field knows what happens and likely has mentioned it to someone. This person does not even need to come forward in name, just email, send a letter or even contact me or another third party and give us her name. If you don’t know her name, just tell us what you know. There are several strip clubs and truck stops in the area, so it makes in quite possible that she was a sex worker. Also the area close to here, was called “Snow Country” for a reason in the late eighties until about the mid-aughts.
This case is solvable and there is no reason whatsoever why she why taken out to a field and that individual has not said anything to date. Given the drug culture and type of drug involved, this person has said something to someone at some point, there is a good chance that person might of thought it was drunk or drug talk. This case needs media exposure.
If you have any information on the identity of the LaSalle County Jane Doe or believe you have information on the identity of the individual(s) who may have disposed of her, please call the LaSalle County Coroner’s office at (815)434-8268 or Email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not required to leave your name.
You may also contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children toll free at 1 (800) 843-5678 if you have any further information on the circumstances of this case.
Other Resources and Further Reading:
Categories: Unidentified Person