Police still looking for any information to identify the child
February 28, 1983, two men entered an abandoned apartment building on Clemens avenue in St. Louis, Missouri, scavenging for copper pipe or looking for something to fix their car. That detail is mixed. They looked around the house, then went down to the basement. When they got to the basement, they could not see anything, one of the men lit a cigarette, and when he did, they saw something in the shadows.
When the men looked closer, they found a child’s body lying on her stomach. The men called the police.
When law enforcement arrived, they found the body of an African-American girl naked from the waist down, wearing a yellow v-neck long-sleeve sweater. She had been restrained behind the back with a red and white nylon rope. She had red nail polish on all of her fingernails. The body had been decapitated, and the head was missing.
After the autopsy, the medical examiner determined the girl to be between the ages of eight and eleven. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled before she had been decapitated. She had been well nourished and had no sign of previous abuse, but her stomach was empty at the time of death. They took a mold sample to determine the girl had been killed three to five days before her body was discovered.
Authorities and first responders searched a 16-mile radius of the surrounding area, in sewers and dumpsters anywhere they could think of, but they never located the head.
Very little blood was found at the scene, so investigators believe she was killed at another location and dumped at the apartment building.
Investigators looked into local and national databases for any missing children fitting Jane Doe’s description, and they looked into school records for absent children. Within the next seven months, they claimed to have accounted for every African American girl between 8 to 11 enrolled in school. It was then believed that she may have been from another area.
There were never any witnesses, and the police found no other evidence.
They never identified Little Jane Doe. Her case went cold.
Capt. Leroy Adkins said in a community meeting in 1983, “somebody out there knows something” and “talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends. Somewhere out there is a mother without a little girl, a brother without a sister, a neighbor without a little girl running up and down the street.”
Nine months after Little Jane Doe was discovered, they gave her a funeral; few people attended, and there were some detectives as well as chief Leroy Adkins. Reporters and the rev. John W. Heywood presided over the service. She was buried in a white coffin in the Washington Park Cemetery in December 1983.
Over the years, they have looked into many leads on this case, including sending a sweater to a psychic in Florida who wanted to touch the piece of clothing to see what they could discern from it, but the police never got the sweater back. The psychic has said the sweater got lost in the mail.
They also talked to a convicted murderer on death row in 2005, believed to have a similar M.O. Vernon Brown had strangled other young girls in the 1980s but did not speak to the detectives when interviewed, and he was put to death in May 2005.
In 2009 police tried to exhume the body in the hopes of running new tests to help identify the girl. They discovered she was not in the listed location when they went to find her. Instead, they found three other bodies. The Washington Park Cemetery had been neglected for years.
With Washington University’s help, they exhumed Little Jane Doe in June 2013.
Tests were conducted by the Smithsonian Institution and the University of North Texas. They took DNA and bone samples from an isotope test they were able to determine that she had lived most of her life in a southeastern state.
On February 8, 2014, she was re-buried following an hour-long ceremony. Many people attended, and she was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St Louis. Her grave marker identifies her as “Hope.”
Joe Burgoon, a former detective for this case, has said, “back then, I thought this would be an easy case to crack. We’d find out who the girl was and that would lead us to the killer.”
The St. Louis city cold case unit formed in 2019 has a room dedicated to the case of Little Jane Doe. They have never given up hope of identifying her.
Jane Doe 1983, as she is identified on The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website, she is the only case with no photo or facial reconstruction. There is only a picture of the sweater.
The St. Louis Police Department is still looking for any information. Little Jane Doe grew up in the Southeast United States. She was approximately 4 foot 10 to 5 foot 2. Between the ages of eight and eleven, she would have gone missing sometime in 1983. She had no distinctive marks or previous injuries. There are hopes that in identifying her, they will be closer to solving her murder.
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