Opening the e-mail I saw it was a transcription of a Kentucky TV news article.
Harlan County, Kentucky is less than 200 miles away from my Tennessee hometown.
It seems the body of a young woman was found there on June 5, 1969. A man picking flowers found her nude body just off of a trail on Pine Mountain.
She had been stabbed in the chest and left behind. Forty years later her identity, and the identity of her killer, are still unknown.
It’s known that there are over 7,000 cases of unidentified remains listed in the FBI-NCIC. But it is also estimated there are more than 40,000 unidentified bodies on local record throughout the nation. This Jane Doe is certainly among that 40,000.
Buried on a hill near the town of Harlan, she lies in a grave with a simple marker. She was Caucasian, about five-foot three, with a medium build and reddish-blonde hair with a healed but once broken collar bone. Another possible clue was a receipt from a Cincinnati, Ohio restaurant. I was curious to know the name of that restaurant.
Like the Tent Girl her story frightened the young and old alike for decades. Ghost stories swirled around her story and the girl became part of an urban legend.
The first inquiry I sent was to Dr. Emily Craig, forensic anthropologist with the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office. Sadly she was unfamiliar with this case that pre-dated the current state medical examiner’s system. So basically it was outside that jurisdiction.
Still, Dr. Craig and I both knew from experience this case is solvable if the proper data can be found.
I spoke to the TV news reporter as well as current Harlan County Coroner Phillip Bianchi. Both were willing to cooperate, yet neither had much data other than the slight details posted in recent news. Both men also suggested a local author as a potential source of more information.
Darla Jackson wrote about this Jane Doe in her book Harlan County Haunts. In a chapter dedicated to Jane Doe, Darla speaks of her uncle who believes he had encountered the ghost of the Mountain Girl. And he said he believes her name is “Caroline.”
In a quote from Darla’s book (I bought a copy today):
“I have spent hours going over every “Jane Doe” network and cold case website on the internet. I have posted messages in the Fayette, Ohio forums and basically exhausted all internet sources. This murder is not listed on the Kentucky State Police cold case website. The “Tent Girl” found near Lexington is a popular Jane Doe case and so is the “Lady in Black” found murdered outside a hotel in Harrodsburg in the 1830’s, but no one seems to be interested in Caroline.”
Ah! But I do care indeed. Finally Darla’s message was heard thanks to local news coverage. Now it’s just a matter of connecting the dots.
Jane “Caroline” Doe was buried in a premium coffin donated by Joe Mahan, a former funeral home owner. I have to wonder, is it possible her DNA still exists? If so, can we enter it into the National DNA database?
Can we gather enough information to enter this case in NamUs.gov, DoeNetwork.org and UnidentifiedRemains.net?
I’ll stay in touch with Harlan County — as we might be “digging” a bit deeper.
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