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Decades old mystery could be solved by new DNA technology

Jane Doe mystery Sandusky
Posted at 6:13 PM, Feb 28, 2022

SANDUSKY, Ohio — The United States Marshals are in the business of tracking down fugitives. But, seven years ago, Congress passed the Justice for Victims Act. “Many of the things that we do to find fugitives would help find missing persons, especially missing kids,” said Bill Boldin, Senior Inspector US Marshals Service.

While reviewing cases, US Marshals discovered cases from years ago where leads went nowhere, and cases went cold. During one cold case, US Marshals investigators were right in the middle of another. Investigators were looking into the case of a 22-year-old woman from Avon Lake who disappeared in 1978 when investigators found a teletype from Sandusky Police Department. That teletype alerted area police departments detailing the discovery of a body.

It was March 30, 1980 when the badly decomposed body of a woman was found just offshore by two people walking along Cedar Point Road. “We believe she was approximately 20 to 30 years old,” said Sandusky Detective Eric Constante.

The leads Sandusky Police had in 1980 led nowhere. They checked multiple cities for missing women. “Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Canada, nothing. None of them unfortunately matched our Jane Doe,” said Constante.

Who was the woman? Now more than 40 years later where was the body? A newspaper article took Boldin and a team of investigators to a Sandusky Funeral home.
At the Groff Funeral Home investigators unlocked one mystery.

“I’ve got records going all the way back to all the prior funeral homes that have been associated with the Groff Funeral Home dating back to the late 1800s,” said Kurt Kresser, Funeral Director Groff Funeral Home.

From the records of Jane Doe, investigators discovered the body was buried in a nearby cemetery. The plot simply marked Jane Doe.

Sandusky Police had been working the cold case, but with new the new information from the Marshals they first thought the body might be that of a missing Erie County woman who disappeared around the same time.

“She was of similar stature and build as our Jane Doe, so along with what the Marshals had, along with that was, the coroner authorized the exhumation of the Jane Doe’s body that was buried at Sand Hill Cemetery,” explained Constante.

DNA taken from the body did not match the Erie County woman. Further testing is needed to determine if it matches the Avon Lake case. Investigators don’t believe it is either of the missing women, leaving two law enforcement agencies with two missing women, one body with no name and three mysteries.

“She was somebody from somewhere, so you know it's going to be our goal to figure out who that was,” said Pete Elliott, US Marshal Northern District of Ohio.

The DNA is now at a lab being analyzed. “It’s a game chancer,” explained Elliott.

Police are banking on forensic genealogy to unlock the mystery. “DNA technology did not exist back in 1980 like it does today,” said Costante.

The woman’s body was discovered wearing a cocktail dress and to this point, detectives said that has been the biggest clue.

“Somebody knows who she is —she was wearing a cocktail dress, a party dress,” explained Costante.

US Marshals don’t believe the woman fits any of the cold cases they are currently working. “I don’t believe it is going to solve our missing person case from 1978, but it is going to solve a missing person case,” said Elliott.

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