It was around 4:25PM on the 1st of March, 1992, when truck driver, Barbara Leverton, pulled into a lay-by at Bitter Creek on Interstate 80 in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, to switch fuel tanks. As she sipped on her coffee, she glanced towards what she believed was discarded trash bags in the distance. The more she glanced at the object, the more suspicious it looked.
Leverton decided she was would go over and inspect the item and as she approached, it became evident that what she had been staring at wasn’t trash bags but instead, a body. Lying at the bottom of the snowy embankment was the nude body of a woman with her head was turned to the side. As this happened before the age of connectivity and mobile phones, Leverton radioed what she had found and another trucker forwarded the transmission to police who shortly thereafter arrived at the scene.
The deceased woman was estimated to be between 24 and 32-years-old. She was approximately 5’8” inches tall and around 125 – 130 pounds. Her hair was dark brown or black and she kept it around collar length. As for identifying features, the young woman had a cesarean scar on her stomach and a scar on her left calf. She also had a tattoo of a rose on her right breast. On her left ring finger, she wore a gold ring, potentially a wedding ring. Beside her body, police found a pair of pink underwear and sweatpants.1
Due to the position of the body, investigators theorised that the body had been thrown from a truck. They determined that she had been killed elsewhere and then disposed of in this specific location. An autopsy concluded that she had met a gruesome demise. An ice pick – or similar object – had been inserted into her nostril, penetrating her sphenoid bone, causing death. According to the pathologist, her death would have occurred “within seconds.”2 The pathologist also found evidence of strangulation as well as trauma to the face and rape and sodomy.
The cold weather at the time had preserved the young woman’s features and therefore, it was initially assumed that she would be easily identified. However, that unfortunately wouldn’t be the case. While there were several lines of enquiry as well as distribution of photographs of the young woman’s face, nobody came forward to identify her. Police were successful in tracking down the tattoo artist who inked her distinctive tattoo. The art was tracked to a tattoo shop in Tucson, Arizona, who said he remembered the young woman. He described her as a “leaper” aka somebody who travels from place to place, typically hitching rides from truckers.
In 2011, her information was entered into the national database, NamUs, which is a system that collects information and evidence of unidentified persons. It also holds a missing persons database that automatically checks for potential matches. There is currently no protocol in Wyoming which requires county law enforcement to report unidentified remains or missing persons to any statewide or even countrywide agency. Therefore, all records are maintained by the county coroners’ offices.
In 2012, Steve Woodson started his role as the DCI director. Shortly thereafter, he created a cold case unit consisting of members of the FBI and forensic scientists. The purpose of this new assembled team was to get fresh eyes looking at unsolved cases for a new perspective and for further investigation. Forensic science is forever advancing so something that could have seemed unimportant back then, could now be important in cracking a case.
The first case the cold case unit looked at was Sheridan County Jane Doe.
On the 13th of April, the remains of a young woman were discovered in a ditch near mile post 5 on the west side of Interstate 90 in Sheridan County, Wyoming. Due to advanced decomposition, she was unrecognisable but she was estimated to be between 16 and 21-years-old. She had brown hair that fell by her shoulders and was wearing a blue and white checked midriff shirt which was tied around the waist. She wore a pair of blue jeans that were held up by a white plastic belt with a silver buckle.
She too had met a brutal and violent demise – she had been bludgeoned across the face and head with a heavy object. Much like “Bitter Creek Betty,” police had theorised that the young woman had been murdered elsewhere and then disposed of at the discovery site.
The cold case unit began their investigation. It wouldn’t take them long to discover that the DNA from the suspect in both cases matched. Whoever killed Bitter Creek Betty had also killed Sheridan County Jane Doe. Over the forthcoming years, numerous missing women have been ruled out as being “Bitter Creek Betty” or “Sheridan Jane Doe.” Many theories have been put forward but the one that has the most weight is that both women were hitchhikers and preyed on by a sadistic killer who then tossed their bodies from his vehicle.
To this day, neither woman has been identified and no suspect has ever been named. They are both buried without headstones in the Rest Haven Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
- Star-Tribune, 11 November, 2012 – “John/Jane Does Frustrate Wyoming Investigators”
- The Billings Gazette, 5 March, 1992 – “Body of Woman Found”