Case # 1726, Jane Doe/Suspicious Death/Unidentified Female - Watts Township, Perry County, Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania State Police, Troop H, Newport continues their investigation of a suspicious death of an unidentified female that was discovered June 20, 1979.  The date of her death occurred between the Fall of 1978 and Spring 1979.  The unidentified female was found on Route 322 East Bound, Watts Township, Perry County, Pennsylvania.


Midstate Mysteries: Smithsonian testing reveals new leads in ’79 cold case

By Ali Lanyon              Published: April 29, 2015

In the summer of 1979, a young woman’s skeletal remains were found along the side of the Juniata River near Newport.  Police hoped her clothing and unique turquoise jewelry would help them to quickly identify her, but 36 years later they are no closer to answers.  They still don’t know who she was, where she came from, or who left her on the side of the riverbank.  But now, thanks to Dr. Christine France of the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute in Suitland, Maryland, there are new leads in this long-time cold case.  Dr. France tested a bone, tooth and hair samples from the girl with the turquoise jewelry.  She was looking at hydrogen and oxygen isotopes, because those isotopes are unique to different geographical regions.  “You are what you eat,” Dr. France said.  “So anything you eat or drink is going to have a distinct chemical signature and that gets incorporated into your bones and your hair and your teeth and your skin and every part of your body basically.”

Different parts of the body can tell scientists different things about the person. For example, the teeth tells them where the person spent their adolescence. The hair tells them where they were most recently.  And the bone gives them a snapshot of about the past 15 years.  In this case, Dr. France determined, based on her hair, the girl may have visited the Southwest in the months prior to her death. That matches a theory investigators had already formed, based on her Indian-style jewelry.  “That was very rewarding to see maybe my data may actually confirm what they know and give them impetus to look in that area a little more strongly,” Dr. France said.  And what’s more; based on her teeth, Dr. France believes the girl grew up in the Great Lakes region or possibly in southern Canada.  Based on that information, new fliers were sent to Canadian authorities.  “We’ve had a tough time identifying her so there was always the thought in the back of my mind that maybe she was a foreigner,” said Trooper Donald Chewning, who is leading the suspicious death investigation for the Pa. State Police.   “We’ve had a couple calls, however the two missing women from that time period from Canada, I’ve already eliminated them, either by dental or DNA.”  But Chewning said at this point he is grateful for any leads. He’s also grateful to Dr. France for doing the tests at no cost to the Pa. State Police.  “We just need one piece of the puzzle to find out who she is,” Chewning said. “And we may never find out how she came to that area, but at least we’ll know who she is.”

Dr. France said it’s rewarding, to take technology often used in archaeology and paleontology, and apply it to modern forensics.  “I am a parent and when I think about missing children, that hits home,” Dr. France said. “I definitely think about who these people might have been and I would like to help them get home if I can.”  But for now, the girl with the turquoise jewelry remains in the Perry County morgue; unidentified, unclaimed, but not uncared for.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Perry County Crimestoppers at 1-866-210-8477 or Trooper Donald Chewning at 717-567-3110.

•Estimated age: 15-30 years old

•Approximate Height and Weight: 5’2"-5’9" (5’6"); 105-125 lbs.

•Distinguishing Characteristics: Light brown to blonde, medium-length, straight hair. Victim was a petite white female. Fractured left 9th rib which was partially healed at mid-shaft.

•Clothing: Blue wool twill knit pants with red thread. White lace blouse. Dark blue ribbed tank-top. Tan “Mushroom black" label jacket/shirt with zipper on right upper pocket and button down front. White or tan bra, red and gray argyle type socks. White leather buckle-type shoes, inside leather stamped with “G48175 1973”, size estimated at 8 ¼ inches.

•Jewelry: Silver, Avon Brand, buckle chain bracelet (right wrist). Sterling silver, Indian type, oblong ring with Turquoise and Onyx stone. Sterling silver, Indian type, Turquoise, oblong ring, with matching teardrop earrings and oblong necklace pendant. Sterling silver ring, with black Onyx stone.

The skull and dentition showed good dental hygiene. No evidence of periodontal disease was noted and the posterior teeth were well aligned and not crowded. There was no direct evidence of orthodontic treatment, however it could not be ruled out. There was no evidence of maxillary or mandibular trauma or anatomical anomalies noted. The extraction of the maxillary right first molar, at some time in the teenage years of the decedent was noted. That determination was based on the partial mesial drifting of the maxillary right second molar into the area occupied by the extracted first molar. The extraction occurred approximately 3-4 years prior to death. The maxillary right third molar was impacted in the bone of the tuberosity and not visible externally. The 1979 dental examination thought that the maxillary right first and second molars had been extracted and that the remaining tooth was the third molar. This error undoubtedly occurred from the lack of a radiographic examination which would have revealed the impacted tooth.

Anyone with information regarding the identification of this female contact Perry County Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-866-210-8477.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you have information on this crime, any serious crime, or wanted person, call Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers Toll Free at 1-800-4PA-TIPS.  All callers remain anonymous and could be eligible for a CASH REWARD.

Friday, May 31, 2013 (All day)

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