On the night of the 4th of May, 1984, three teenagers were driving along Old Line Road, approximately 4 miles west of Westby, Wisconsin, when they came across a gruesome scene. Lying at the side of the gravel road was the body of a female. The teenagers drove to a nearby farm to report what they had found. 1
When an officer arrived, the teenagers directed him to the deceased body. The woman’s face was bludgeoned beyond recognition. She suffered a broken jaw, a broken eye socket, and her dentures had been smashed inside her mouth. She had sharp force injuries to the left ear, possibly caused by a knife. 2
A model of her likeness could only be created after mortuary personnel reconstructed her face.
She became known as the Vernon County Jane Doe and was described as a Caucasian woman between 50 and 65 years old. She had greying brown hair which was worn in a perm and blue eyes. She was approximately 5 feet and a half-inch tall weighed around 150 pounds. 3
On her abdomen was a 4” surgical scar and in her mouth were dentures with numbers 420 and 289 inscribed. Her blood type was O negative. She was wearing a black dress with a paisley print, a blue turtleneck sweater, a multi-coloured coat, and nylon stockings. On her feet, she donned tan slip-on shoes in a size 8.5B. Both the coat and dress were home-sewn.
While no attempt had been made by the killer to conceal her body, the labels of the clothing had been removed to prevent identification. Even more gruesome, her hands had also been chopped off and were never recovered. Again, this would have been to prevent identification via fingerprints. Did the killer think her fingerprints were on file somewhere?
After the case was publicised in local newspapers, a couple came forward to tell police that they had seen a suspicious man that same evening. He was climbing into the driver’s seat of a two-door yellow Datsun alongside US Highway 14 approximately three miles from the crime scene. When they directed police to where the car was parked, they found a broken denture, blood, and a men’s quartz Seiko watch. 4
They also noticed fresh tracks in the gravel, indicating the driver of the car had made a U-turn. Police theorised that the suspect in the yellow car had pulled in at the side of the road in an attempt to dump the body when the couple interrupted him.
It was believed that she had been murdered elsewhere and then disposed of along Old Line Road. It is unlikely that she was a Vernon County resident but authorities believe she likely lived within 100 miles of where she was dumped.
Despite the fact that over 4000 leads were logged over the forthcoming years, her identity still remains unknown along with the identity of her killer. She was buried in the Viroqua Cemetery under a headstone which reads: “Jane Doe, found murdered on May 4, 1984.” The flowers which decorate her final resting place have been left by those touched by her lonely death. Hopefully one day, she can receive a headstone engraved with her true identity.
Do you think you know the “Vernon County Jane Doe”? Think back to 1984. Did you lose touch with a woman who was a friend, a neighbour, or just a familiar face? If so, tips can be called into the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department at 608-637-2123 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org