On the 2nd of October, 1976, a local farmer in unincorporated Seneca, Illinois, stumbled across an unexpected sight in a ditch along U.S. Route 6, around 1.4 miles east of the LaSelle County line in Illinois. It was the deceased body of a young woman. She had been shot once in the back of the head and then dumped in the lonely ditch. She was an African-American woman, estimated to be between 18 and 23 years old with black afro-style hair. The young woman had brown eyes, a scar on her right hip, and a possible birthmark on her lower right abdomen. She stood at approximately 5’7” and weighed 130ls – 150lbs. She was nude and her head had been covered with a green plastic bag bound with electrical tape and wrapped with a red, white and black knit sweater which didn’t have a branded tag but instead, a tag with a handwritten “L.”
Her autopsy was conducted at the Range Funeral Home by Dr. Ahiuwalia, a pathologist for the Morris Hospital. The results concluded that the woman had been dead for around 24 hours when she was found and that she had died from one shot to the head with a .38-caliber revolver. The bullet entered her head behind the ear and came out of the forehead.1The young woman’s fingerprints were taken and sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as all state crime laboratories in the nation in the hopes that she could be identified. A sketch of what she may have looked like while still alive was featured in a local newspaper. The gunshot injury she sustained had disfigured her so extensively that the sketch was as accurate as it could have been. There was unfortunately very little news coverage of the murder other than one article detailing the discovery and another mentioning her funeral. There were no photographs taken of the scene.
Investigators on the case believed that the young woman most likely wasn’t from the area because at the time, Grundy County was predominately white. Moreover, they had compared her details to all missing African-American women in the area but came up empty handed. She remained unidentified in the funeral home refrigerator for weeks before being buried in an unmarked grave in Braceville-Gardner Cemetery on Thanksgiving morning. The only two peole in attendance was the then-Coroner, James Reeves, and a representative for the cemetery. The burial followed a Grundy County coroner’s jury verdict: Homicide by an unknown person.
The case remained cold until 2017, when it was reopened with Grundy County Coroner John Callahan and Deputy Coroner Brandon Johnson working on the case tirelessly. With such an advancement in DNA technology and forensic science, it is hoped that these improvements could help lead to a positive identification of the young woman. In December of 2018, the body of “Grundy County Jane Doe” was exhumed from her unmarked grave in Braceville-Gardner Cemetery so that more DNA testing could be conducted. “We reached a corner with the initial DNA obtained from the victim’s sweater and felt that we stood a better chance of identifying this female by exhuming her and sending bones to The University of North Texas Human Center for Identification in Fort Worth, Texas. The lab specializes in mitochondrial DNA, something more enhanced. We also look forward to using genealogy in the near future,” said Johnson.2 Genealogy has aided in solving 18 cold cases in just the past year, including the infamous Golden State Killer case and the murder of April Tinsley. For a potential match to be made, all it takes is a relative to upload their DNA to one of the many genealogy websites.
In addition, the office has also been working alongside the Illinois State Police Lab, NamUs, The Doe Network, The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children as well as numerous forensic artists which have created images of how the unidentified woman may have looked while still alive. Since the case has reopened, tips have trickled in. One tip came in from Mississippi when a woman contacted Grundy County Coroners to tell them about their sister who had been missing since the 1960s. When she disappeared, nobody reported her missing. Unfortunately, upon further investigation, it was revealed that Grundy County Jane Doe was not the missing family member as the dates didn’t add up. Another tip came in from Chicago when a mother speculated that the unidentified woman may have been her daughter who she reported missing four decades ago. The mother said when she saw a composite sketch of the victim along with the sweater, she thought the sketch looked similar to her daughter and she thought the sweater looked familiar. However, DNA soon ruled this identification out.
As of yet, Grundy County Jane Doe still remains unidentified. “This is someone’s loved on. Whether it be a mother, daughter, sister, cousin or friend,” said Johnson.
Anyone with information that might help lead to the woman’s identification – or the identification of who killed her – is asked to contact Deputy Coroner Brandon Johnson at 815-941-3359 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Morris Daily Herald, 4 October, 1976 – “Seek to Identify Murder Victim”
- Morris Herald-News, 18 December, 2018 – “Grundy County Coroner’s Office Exhumes Jane Doe”