*UPDATE: The Jackson County Sheriff has announced the identity of Delta Dawn: Alisha Ann Heinrich*
On the morning of December 5, 1982, truck driver Ted Hammond was driving along Interstate 10 when he spotted the body of an adult female floating in the Escatawpa River, then known as Dog River. Upon discovering the body, he telephoned the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and shared that the woman, who was wearing a blue plaid shirt and jeans, was floating along the north side of the bridge, near an ice chest. While he was unable to go back because his truck had a faulty fuel line, he offered to leave the truck at the truck stop in Grand Bay, Mississippi and return to the scene.
Upon arriving at the scene, deputies set up post near Franklin Creek, beneath the westbound lane of I-10. While they were unable to locate the body of the unknown woman, they did locate the body of a female toddler, floating face up in the thick brush along the river, approximately 10 miles from the bridge.
An autopsy was performed on Jane Doe upon her body being brought to the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office, where it was determined she had died approximately 36 to 48 hours prior. It appeared as though she had been thrown from the I-10 bridge.
Her cause of death was determined to have been homicide caused by forced drowning, as there was water found in her lungs. There were also signs she had been smothered before entering the water.
Upon the young Jane Doe being found, a search operation, run by the Sheriff’s Office’s Flotilla members, was launched for the body Ted Hammond had seen floating in the river. Search operations were set up at Old Oak Marina in Gautler, and divers, boats and helicopters were used. However, no traces of the woman’s body were found.
During an additional search of the river, investigators found the skeletal remains of an unknown male, who would later become known as the Jackson County John Doe. While he was at first thought to be related to the case, it was later proven he had been shot to death and had been deceased long before Jane Doe was found.
Authorities quickly determined that Jane Doe had been thrown from the eastbound side of the bridge into the general area in which she had been found. The area was heavily weed-infested, which explained why passing motorists had not spotted her body.
Upon releasing a plea for witnesses, numerous truck drivers came forward to say they’d seen a visibly distressed woman walking aimlessly along I-10 with a barefoot and coatless young child on the night of December 3, 1982. She had refused help from those who approached her. Similar sightings also came from those who had been travelling along Mississippi State Highway 10 the same night.
These sightings were further proven by a Moss Point woman who had been monitoring CB radio conversations that night. She told investigators that those who had been travelling along the road were “raising-a-boat-load-of-hell” during the time the unknown woman was reportedly seen on the interstate.
When last seen, she was wearing a blue plaid shirt and jeans and was walking near the truck scales along the Alabama/Mississippi line, between midnight and 1:00am.
Upon receiving this information, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office shared that they believed the unknown woman to have been Jane Doe’s mother. They speculated that she had thrown the child into the water, believing she was dead as a result of being smothered, then jumped off the bridge herself.
Numerous efforts were made to find the body of the woman seen floating in the river, with equal efforts done to identify and locate the woman seen walking along I-10, in case the body spotted wasn’t hers. However, no leads surfaced in regards to this.
A few weeks after she was found, Jane Doe was posthumously adopted by Deputy Moore of the Sheriff’s Office and his wife, who organized a fundraiser to help hold a funeral and burial for the young girl, who was then known publicly as “Delta Dawn”. The service was held at Bethel Assembly of God Church and the burial occurred at Jackson County Memorial Park. Her headstone reads “Baby Jane – Known Only To God”.
In 2007, on the 25th anniversary of Jane Doe having been found, a graveside memorial was held in her memory at the church. It was organized by two women who had met online while researching another missing person’s case.
In March 2008, Jane Doe’s body was exhumed to compare her DNA to that of a missing child from California. The California coroner contacted Jackson County investigators and informed them a local family believed she could be their missing girl. She had disappeared around the same time Jane Doe was discovered and the family felt her composite looked similar. According to them, the boyfriend of the girl’s mother claimed to have kidnapped the child and killed her, but he’d refused to tell authorities where he’d hidden the body.
DNA testing revealed Jane Doe to not be the missing girl.
According to a new investigator in charge of the case, Ted Hammond is considered a suspect, as his story has changed throughout the years. However, no arrests have ever been made in the case, and no new leads have surfaced as of late.
Jane Doe is described as being a white female, and is believed to have been 18 months old around the time of her death. She stood at 2’5″ to 2’6″ and weighed approximately 20 to 26 pounds.
She had strawberry blonde hair. Given how long she was in the water, her eye colour is currently unknown. However, it’s believed to have been either brown or blue. When found, she was wearing a Cradle Togs pink and white dress, which buttoned up in the back and featured flowers on the front, and a disposable diaper.
A look through her dental records showed that 12 of her baby teeth had erupted, and she appeared to have been well-nourished and cared for. However, when found, there was no food in her stomach.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jane Doe’s DNA is currently available for comparison. It’s unknown if her fingerprints are available, as sources tend to differ in regards to this information.
Those with information regarding the identity of Jane Doe or the woman seen floating in the Escatawpa River are being asked to call the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department at 228-769-3063 or 228-769-3306. Tips can also be called into the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office at 228-769-3197 or 601-987-1440.
Image Credit: NCMEC