On the 21st of July, 1999, a man walking his dog found the body of a young woman dumped in a cornfield near the town of Raymond, Racine County, Wisconsin. The man had been on an early morning walk along 92nd St. between Six Mile Road and Seven Mile Road when he came across the gruesome sight.
According to the pathologist who conducted her autopsy, the woman had died from a multitude of injuries; she had been starved, abused and tortured for a prolonged period before finally perishing. She received blunt force trauma to her head, had a broken nose, cuts on her head and on the bridge of her nose and forehead. She also suffered blunt force trauma to her chest, abdomen, wrists, hands, and fingers and had numerous cuts over her body. Moreover, she showed signs of sexual abuse and had sustained a cauliflower ear due to the relentless beatings. The young woman had burns on her head, face, neck, arms and upper torso covering more than 25% of her body.1 Her death was ruled to be the result of multiple homicidal injuries.
The young woman was estimated to be between 18 and 35-years-old; a radiograph of her body indicated she was likely closer to 18-years-old but investigators didn’t want to limit the search too much. She had shoulder-length, wavy, brown hair with blonde highlights. Her eyes were either brown or hazel and she had her ears pierced twice. She had no significant moles, birthmarks or surgical scars which could have assisted in identification. Her teeth were in poor condition and her two front teeth were slightly protruding. Lower-set ears and a small cranial cavity suggested that she was possibly cognitively disabled. She was wearing sweatpants and a man’s grey shirt with a floral design on the front. Unfortunately before the discovery, there had been a heavy downpour which got rid of any evidence which may have led to the killer.
With very little evidence to go on, the case rolled to a standstill quite promptly. Initially, four detectives were assigned to the case but by November, that number dwindled to just two. Detectives Jim Dehne and Eileen Reily travelled to homeless shelters throughout Wisconsin and spoke to paediatric and dental offices throughout the country. They also made contact with agencies that work with disabled children in the hopes that one may have recognised the deceased woman. The case got really personal for the two detectives who had worked – and solved – numerous other missing person cases. “I constantly dwell on it,” Reilly said. “I wonder if she ever smiled. She must have smiled when she was a little kid. She certainly didn’t have much to smile about in the last year of her life.”2
Both Dehne and Reily acted as the young woman’s family during her funeral service. “I just sat there during the funeral, and all I could think of was this could be my daughter lying in that grave with a Jane Doe tag on her,” Dehne said. “I kept wondering, ‘Where in the hell are her parents?’ And I’d like to think that if it were my child, someone would be pulling out all of the stops to find her identity and find her killer.” The funeral service was paid for with donations from local businesses. The community wanted to give her the dignity in death that she was denied in life. The Rev. Jeffrey M. Thielen told the crowd gathered at the Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home “that a young woman lying in this casket is a stark and a terrible reminder of everything that is painful and cruel in this life.”3
Shortly after her funeral, the detectives thought they had cracked the case when a lead came in from a Fond du Lac homeless shelter. When they drove out to the homeless shelter to show the residents a picture of Racine County Jane Doe, they were all adamant that it was a woman that often stayed at the homeless shelter. However, there was one glaring inconsistency which could not be ignored: unlike Racine County Jane Doe, the Fond du Lac woman had absolutely no teeth. Several reconstructions of the woman’s face have been released over the years in the hopes that somebody could potentially recognise her. Her remains were exhumed in 2013 for more advanced forensic testing to be conducted in Milwaukee. This led to another artist rendering a more up-to-date composite. “I think anytime we have an individual who is badly beaten, murdered and left as trash in our community, any day is too long,” said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling.4
At one point in the investigation, detectives thought the deceased woman could have been Aundria Bowman who had ran away from her adoptive parents’ home in 1989. DNA testing, however, ruled her out. Tina D’Ambrosio and Karen Wells have also been ruled out. In 2011, the case was handed over to investigators, Cary Madrigal and Tom Knaus. In a Journal Times article, they suggested that the young woman could have come from a dysfunctional family or was a runaway. They also suggested that the she could have even come from overseas.
In 2016, testing was performed on Racine County Doe’s hair and bones at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.. The test can reveal subtle clues about diet, geography and movements of a person in the run up to their death. It achieves this by measuring variations in the molecular level of elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen that are absorbed into the bones, teeth and hair from food and water cosumed.. The results suggested that she may have originally been from – or at least spent several years of her life – in Alaska, Montana, or southern Canada.5
Racine County Jane Doe’s DNA, fingerprints and photographs are on national files and FBI files. Her identity – and the identity of the person who tortured her to death before dumping her in a cornfield – remains unsolved. If anyone has any information on her identity, they are asked to call Racine County sheriff’s Investigator Tracy Hintz at 262-636-3190 or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 23 October, 1999 – “Woman Was Tortured in Last Days”
- Daily Citizen, 8 November, 1999 – “Murder Gets Personal in Racine County”
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 28 October, 1999 – “Community Grieves Loss of Slain Jane Doe”
- Fox 6 WITI, 21 July, 2015 – “Search for Answers: Racine Co. Investigators Unyielding in Quest to Identify Jane Doe”
- ABC 12 WISN, 4 January, 2017 – “New Information Learned about Racine County Jane Doe’s Past”