Hopes rise for new breaks in old 'killing fields' cases
Updated 10:32 am, Monday, November 7, 2011
Jane and Janet Doe were discarded like trash, their nude bodies among four murdered young women left to decompose in a serial killer's personal graveyard, known as the notorious "killing fields" of League City.
For more than two decades since that grisly discovery, the bones of Jane and Janet Doe have sat in a dusty box at the Galveston County morgue. Their true identities remain a mystery to this day. No family has been able to mourn or bury the two nameless women, unlike the other two victims - 16-year-old Clear Creek sophomore Laura Miller and 23-year-old waitress Heidi Fye.
But League City Police Detective Marty Grant hopes that will soon change.
He and Detective Bryan Campbell recently discovered that DNA extracted from the two sets of unidentified remains in the 1990s was not being used for comparison to submissions to the state's Missing Person DNA databank that opened in 2003.
It's not precisely clear why the evidence wasn't submitted to the databank, but Grant says there was a lack of oversight in making sure the evidence was turned in.
Also, because of advancements in the very exact science of DNA analysis, the Center for Human Identity in Fort Worth, which runs the state's missing person DNA database, has not wanted DNA samples processed by outside labs.
JANE DOE : Body was discovered Feb. 2, 1986, lying in a pasture off Calder Road. About 25 years old; reddish-brown hair; large gap between her two front teeth.
JANET DOE: Body found on Sept. 8, 1991, by a horseback rider in the same pasture. About 31 years old; small frame; fine brown hair; fitted with upper dentures.
"We usually only enter DNA that we've processed in our own lab," said Dixie Peters, a forensic analyst there. "We have very precise standards. We want to make sure that we extract a full DNA profile."
Technology today is better at extracting DNA from degraded specimens such as bodies left exposed to the weather for months, as happened in the Janet and Jane Doe cases, she added.
This Texas lab was the first in the nation to feed its DNA profiles into CODIS, the FBI's national database.
Once the state databank processes DNA from bones submitted last week from the unidentified remains, computers can immediately begin scanning for possible matches nationwide.
"This could be monumentally important," Grant said, because during the past eight years, thousands of families of the missing have been urged to submit DNA samples to the state's databank for familial comparisons.
"Used to be these databanks only included the DNA from victims of crime," Grant said.
The expansion of the records has led to the solving of many missing person cases. Authorities point to a 2006 case in which the Texas lab identified the skeletal remains of a 16-year-old runaway who was murdered by a serial killer two decades earlier in 1984.
Investigators would like nothing better than to give Jane and Janet Doe a proper burial. At the same time, knowing their identities could provide a windfall of information that might help solve the infamous "killing field" murders.
"Once we identify the girls, we can track their history," said Tommy Hansen, a Galveston County sheriff's investigator who's also working on the case. "See where they last were and who they were with before they died. We might connect their names to one of our suspects. It could give us nothing or open up the whole world."
Right now all investigators have are the two victims' smiling faces sketched by police artists based on skull measurements and hair samples.
Children riding dirt bikes, who smelled a foul odor, discovered Jane Doe, estimated to be about 25 years old, lying in a pasture off Calder Road on Feb. 2, 1986. She had been shot in the back and dumped there as much as six months earlier. Her unclothed 5-foot-5-inch to 5-foot-8-inch body had turned into a skeleton by then. Authorities could tell she once had reddish-brown, shoulder length hair.
Her main distinguishing characteristic was a large gap between her two front teeth. She also had some healed fractured ribs.
As authorities scoured the fields for more evidence after her body was found, they then discovered another victim - Laura Miller - who was lying within 20 yards of Jane. The first victim, Heidi Fye, had been discovered in that vicinity two years earlier after a dog carried her skull to a nearby house.
The last victim, Janet Doe, was found by a horseback rider cantering down trails through that pasture on Sept. 8, 1991. Her bones were found about 100 yards away from where the other three bodies had been deposited.
This small-statured woman with fine brown hair, estimated to be about 31 years old, had possibly been beaten to death as much as four months earlier. The most curious feature about her was that she had already lost her teeth and been fitted with a set of low-quality upper dentures.
Laura Miller's father, Tim, who has since founded Texas Equusearch, said he would like to see these last two bodies identified more than he wants to see the killer captured.
"I want to see them sent home to their parents and loved ones. I want them to have their own spot where someone can bring flowers," said Miller, recalling how painful it was to wait three years to bury his daughter while her case was being investigated.
The Center for Human Identity estimates it could take a few weeks to several months to analyze the new evidence and enter it into the DNA databanks.
Grant hopes he has the luck of the Irish.
"I think I'm due a break," he said with a slight Irish lilt, "after trying to solve these murders for 13 years. I'm praying to God this works. It could be monumental."