While many true crime cases from decades past remain unsolved, these tragedies are only compounded when a victim is unable to be identified. Many families of John and Jane Does never have the closure of knowing what happened to a missing loved one, and victims' real names and stories remain unknown.
Fortunately, however, we have come a long way in developing and using technology to identify victims and give them the justice and recognition they deserve. Genealogical research, nonprofit organizations like the DNA Doe Project, and even social media have changed everything and have helped crack hundreds of cases. Though some of these cases still have many unknowns, and continue to be investigated, these Jane Does finally had their real names returned decades later, proving that justice and closure can still be found even in the coldest of cases.
The Person That Found ‘Bossier Doe’ Is Now A Person Of Interest In Her Murder
John Chesson and his children were walking in the woods of Bossier Parish, LA, on January 28, 1981, when they came upon the decomposed remains of a young woman. Estimates placed her date of death four to six weeks prior to her discovery. No one came forward to identify her and she was nicknamed “Bossier Doe.” Authorities had no idea who she was or whether she was even from the area. However, the brutal nature of the crime left them determined to find her identity and get her justice.
Thirty-four years later, a Facebook profile a detective made for Bossier Doe generated new leads that pointed to a missing Michigan teen by the name of Carol Ann Cole. DNA tests confirmed that Bossier Doe was in fact Cole. Cole had moved to San Antonio,TX, with her mother in 1980 and went missing after attending a party in the Shreveport, LA, area. Cole had allegedly been in some trouble with the law at the time. Despite her family reporting her missing, incorrect dental records sent in by Cole’s mother had previously ruled out Bossier Doe as Cole.
While there’s been several persons of interest in her case, no one has been formally accused. Chesson, the man who found Cole’s body, became a person of interest after his daughter, Frances Aucoin, stated that he had picked up Cole while she was hitchhiking. Cole allegedly stayed with the family, then suddenly disappeared. Aucoin believes her father to be responsible and that he led them to the body out of guilt. Chesson was convicted of murdering his mother-in-law in 1997 but never admitted to any wrongdoing in Cole's case before he passed in 2016. While authorities are reportedly investigating Chesson, as well as other possible suspects, Cole's family doesn't believe Chesson is responsible and the case remains unsolved.
Cole's sister, Linda Phelps, expressed the mixed feelings of finally learning her sister's fate, saying, “All I can think right now is wow. I finally found Carol Ann… Definitely not the way I wanted to find my sister…There was a sense of relief, but also a deep sadness.”
A Photo Resembling ‘Pima County Jane Doe’ Was Found In The Possession Of A Convicted Murderer
The last time Bill Gerow saw his sister, Brenda, she was getting on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle and moving out West. It was 1980 and his “flower child” sister was dating a man named Jack Kalhauser. But it turned out Brenda didn't know Kalhauser at all. She didn't know that when they left New Hampshire, Kalhauser was actually jumping bail - he'd been charged with armed assault with intent to murder. In addition, Kalhauser had already been convicted of a murdering another man in 1971 as a teenager, but had only served a short sentence.
According to Bill, the last time he heard from Brenda, she called him from Arizona: “It wasn’t a joyful phone call. She said, ‘I’m coming home.’ I said, ‘Is everything alright?’ She said, ‘No, I’m coming home and I’ll see you soon… I can’t talk right now.’” Bill tried to report his sister missing, but was told she likely didn't want to be found.
On April 8, 1981, a pair of hunters in Pima County, AZ, stumbled upon the body of a young woman who’d been strangled and left down a desert wash. All that investigators could figure out was that she was young, between the ages of 17 and 25. Known only as “Pima County Jane Doe," clues remained sparse, until a young woman named Diane van Reeth went missing in 1995.
Van Reeth had recently filed for divorce from her husband, Donald Stecchi, when she didn't show up for work one day. Investigators soon learned that “Donald Stecchi” was in fact John “Jack” Kalhauser. Kalhauser was eventually sentenced to 20 years for van Reeth's murder, but during the investigation, a mysterious photo turned up in Kalhauser's wallet. It was of a young blond woman holding flowers. Kalhauser refused to say who she was.
In 2012, the body of Pima County Jane Doe was exhumed to gather new evidence and create a facial reconstruction. After the reconstruction, cold case investigators suddenly noticed a haunting similarity to the photo that was found in Kalhauser's possession. The photo was released on social media and eventually found its way to Bill. A DNA test confirmed that Pima County Jane Doe was Brenda Gerow.
Kalhauser has been named a person of interest in Gerow's case, but as of 2022 has not been charged. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, he was released for the van Reeth killing in 2019.
After Fleeing To California, ‘Pearl Lady’ Had Returned Home To Ohio Shortly Before Her Death
In November 2006, a woman’s body was found floating in the Ohio River by a worker from a local factory. Her identity was a complete mystery, only compounded by the fact that she was wearing a gold and pearl necklace. “Pearl Lady,” as she became known, was a Jane Doe for almost a decade, until November 2014, when a match to her fingerprints was discovered. The fingerprints belonged to a woman by the name of Barbara Hess Precht who had been arrested for shoplifting in San Diego in 1986. The arrest record stated she had been stealing food for her children, who she released to an orphanage not long after the shoplifting incident. Investigators were able to contact one of her children, who agreed to a DNA test that confirmed Precht was Pearl Lady.
However, the events surrounding Precht's life and death remain perplexing, and authorities still aren't sure what really happened. In 1983, Barbara and her husband, James Precht, were living in Ohio when they reportedly fled to California with their children for “a better life,” after they were allegedly threatened at their home by men with guns. The true story behind the puzzling move is unclear, as well as why they returned to Ohio shortly before Precht's demise. Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, Hamilton County coroner, has said:
There are a lot of inconsistencies we have been told. There have been so many inconsistencies that we're going to have to get everyone together here under oath. We are just trying to figure out what happened to Barbara Hess [Precht]…
At one time there was thought that they were in a witness protection program… But, now, there is still speculation of some of Precht working with the mafia or some kind of underworld type connection.
One of the individuals authorities are investigating and attempting to get information from is James Precht, Barbara's husband. Thus far, James, who was living under a different name, has not been charged in relation to his wife's death, but is a person of interest.
‘Tent Girl’ Was Finally Identified Thanks To The Son-In-Law Of The Man Who Found Her
The body of a young woman was found in 1968 by Wilbur Riddle, a well digger, who was traveling in the Kentucky backwoods. While collecting glass telephone pole insulators, Riddle found a bundled up green tarp. As Wilber nudged the bundle, it unrolled and revealed the decomposed remains of a young woman inside. The press nicknamed the young woman “Tent Girl” due to the material she was wrapped in, and despite attempts by police to find out her identity, her true name remained unknown for three decades.
Several decades later, a man named Todd Matthews began dating (and eventually married) Riddle's daughter, Lori. After hearing her father's haunting story, Matthews became invested in searching for Tent Girl, scouring local papers and visiting her grave. It wasn't until 1998, with the aid of the internet, that Matthews found a post published by Rosemary Westbrook, and the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. Westbrook had been searching for her sister for decades, and posted a description that sounded similar to Tent Girl:
My sister Barbara has been missing from our family since the latter part of 1967. She has brown hair, brown eyes, is about five feet two inches tall and was last seen in the Lexington, Kentucky area.
Westbrook's post also included a picture of her missing sister, whose name was Barbara Ann Hackmann Taylor. According to Westbrook, Hackmann Taylor had left her Arkansas home in 1967 and her family never heard from her again. Matthews connected the picture to a composite of Tent Girl, and DNA analysis confirmed that Westbrook was related to the deceased woman. Unbeknownst to her family, Hackmann Taylor had moved to Kentucky. She was 24 years old when she was murdered and left behind a young daughter. Some suspect her husband, George Earl Taylor, was involved; he told her family in late 1967 that she had left him for another man. Taylor was a carnival worker, which might have given him access to the kind of tarp his wife was found in, and he was known to be a violent man. However, Taylor has since passed, and the answers to what happened may remain elusive.
Though Friends Of ‘Pyjama Girl’ Knew Who She Was, A Mistake In Dental Work Led To Her Going Unidentified For A Decade
On September 1, 1934, the badly burned body of a woman was found wrapped in a sack and in a towel 5 miles west of Albury, Australia. The woman was wearing Asian-style pajamas, and this detail led to the media dubbing her “Pyjama Girl.” Unlike many Jane Doe cases, several people claimed to know the identity of the woman and told police the victim was Linda Agostini. The police, unfortunately, were misled by inaccurate dental records that did not match Agostini to the remains. Pyjama Girl's body was therefore preserved in formalin in a zinc-lined bath at the University of Sydney and was shown to hundreds of people in an attempt to solve the case.
Police questioned Agostini’s husband, Antonio Agostini, at the time of the murder, but he claimed that his wife had left him and that he was unaware of her whereabouts. Since the dental records didn’t match, police couldn't confirm the body was Linda and therefore stopped looking at Antonio as a suspect.
It wasn’t until a decade later in 1944 that the errors in matching the dental records were discovered. This, along with the prior statements of those who recognized her, led authorities to formally ID Pyjama Girl as Linda Agostini. Once this news came to light in March 1944, her husband was once again questioned by police. Antonio eventually confessed his role in his wife’s murder and subsequent attempt to burn the remains to get rid of the evidence. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison and hard labor.
Shortly Before Her Demise, ‘Walker County Jane Doe’ Asked Numerous People For Directions To A Nearby Prison
When the body of a teenage girl was discovered on the side of Interstate 45 in Huntsville, TX, on November 1, 1980, she had only been deceased for a few hours. The only leads authorities could find came from a a manager and two workers at the nearby South End Gulf gas station and a Hitchin’ Post truck stop. They told authorities they had seen the young girl the day before her remains were found and that she had been asking for directions to Ellis Prison Farm, a state penitentiary on the outskirts of town. A waitress at the truck stop had reportedly asked her if her parents knew where she was, to which the girl responded, “Who cares?” For over 40 years her identity remained a mystery.
After intensive DNA testing and reconstruction that took over a year, Walker County Jane Doe was connected to a small set of people who were blood relatives. Authorities sifted through the individuals and narrowed it down until they were able to find her siblings. Her family was eventually contacted, and after further testing and investigation, it was confirmed that the body was that of 14-year-old Sherri Ann Jarvis.
Sherri was from Stillwater, MN. She had a pattern of running away, as well as truancy, which led to her being put in a state-run crisis home. She ran away for the last time in early 1980, and the last contact she had with her family was through a postcard that she had sent them from Denver, CO. Her family searched for her for years and even hired a private investigator to attempt to locate her. How she ended up in Texas, why she was trying to visit the prison, and who killed her remain a mystery.
After she was identified, Sherri's family released a statement, saying:
We lost Sherri more than 41 years ago and we’ve lived in bewilderment every day since, until now as she has finally been found. Sherri Ann Jarvis was a daughter, sister, cousin and granddaughter. She loved children, animals and horseback riding… She was deprived of so many life experiences as a result of this tragedy. She was denied the opportunity to experience romance and love, marital bliss, the heartache and pain of loss, the pure joy of having children or growing old and being able to reflect on such milestones afforded an abounding lifetime… You are with mom and dad now, Sherri, may you rest in peace.