*UPDATE: The Pulaski County Jane Doe has been identified as Karen Kay Knippers.*
At 8:47am on the morning of May 25, 1981, two men in Dixon, Pulaski County, Missouri were searching Mill Creek for gravel when they came upon the the partially submerged body of a deceased female. Found within the shallow water at the crossing near Highway MM, just north of Dixon and 35 miles from the Fort Leonard military base, the body was found at an odd angle, with her midsection exposed on a section of gravel and her head and feet under the water. The two men immediately contacted the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office to report their finding.
The area in which Jane Doe was found is located off the beaten path, near a gravel road known for being steep and curvy in places. As it’s fairly isolated, only locals tend to know where the creek bed is, and it was known as a place young people would gather for parties.
An autopsy was performed upon Jane Doe’s body being brought to the Pulaski County Coroner’s Office for examination. It was determined that she’d likely died between four to five hours prior to her body being found. However, given that the creek is spring-fed and thus the water is quite cold, it’s possible it may have affected her body temperature and thus the time of death estimates.
Jane Doe’s cause of death was determined to be strangulation, the result of pantyhose being wrapped around her neck. There was also extensive trauma to her face and head, the result of a severe beating.
While it was initially noted that there were no obvious signs of sexual assault, it would later be revealed that there had been some mild trauma to her vaginal walls.
Jane Doe’s race is currently unknown. Investigators are leaning toward her being white or Hispanic, and a bone profile suggests she was of either Native American or Hispanic admixture. It’s noted that she had a slightly dark complexion. While likely in her 30s, she could have been anywhere from 25 to 40 years of age. She stood between 5’1″ to 5’5″ and weighed 130 pounds, with the autopsy report showing she appeared to have been well-fed. She had long black hair, and her eyes were either brown or hazel in colour.
She had no obvious marks, scars or tattoos on her body, and it’s been noted that she had high cheekbones. An examination of her dentals showed a full upper denture plate and dental work to her lower teeth.
When found, she was wearing a dark blue Try I long-sleeved blouse with white pinstripes; In Gear-brand blue jeans; blue bikini panties; and an ivory or faded white bra. The bra had on it a word written in magic marker on the inside. While it’s illegible, online sleuths have shared they potentially see the following: “Jubel”, “Julie”, “Juliel”, “Julie!” or “Juliet”. It appeared her clothing had been put on rather hastily, possibly by someone else, as the pockets of her jeans were turned out and her underwear was bunched up.
It’s been noted that Jane Doe was found without socks or shoes. Investigators with the Missouri State Highway Patrol searched up and down the creek looking for her shoes and any other pieces of evidence, but were unsuccessful.
Police have confirmed there was a graduation party occurring in the area around the time she was killed – however, they say Jane Doe was not murdered at the site where she was found. All attendees have been questioned, and while it’s said some showed recognition, no one claimed to have known her or seen her at the party. Investigators are currently asking anyone who was there to come forward with an information they may not have initially shared toward the beginning of the investigation.
Given the belief Jane Doe may have been Native American, investigators are interested in learning if there have been any disappearances from nearby reserves. However, given there aren’t any recognized tribes in Missouri, there are no obvious tribal nations for them to check with.
Given the writing found on the inside of her bra, some have speculated that she may have been living in a group home, a care facility or a mental institution around the time of her murder, as it’s somewhat common for residents to write their name on their clothing, so as to not get them mixed up in another’s laundry. Others feel this could be of no value to the investigation, as the bra could have been a hand-me-down from a relative, or it could have been purchased at a thrift store or a garage sale.
In May 2015, Jane Doe’s body was exhumed from its grave in the Waynesville Memorial Cemetery to see if DNA could be extracted and any other evidence collected. Both mitochondrial DNA and STR-DNA were retrieved from the remains by the Science Department at the University of North Texas, and in February 2016 part of the results were uploaded to national databases.
Chemical isotope testing of strontium and lead found in her body indicated she was likely born in the United States and had only lived in Missouri for a few years before her death. Oxygen isotopes showed she was likely from the southeastern part of the US, ranging from Texas and Georgia, down to south Florida.
In August 2019, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office worked to raise money, so that Jane Doe’s case could be picked up by the DNA Doe Project. As of writing, it has been fully funded and is currently in the process of being researched.
The Sheriff’s Offie continues to follow up on every lead that comes in. In December 2016, they said they had a possible suspect or person of interest, but wouldn’t elaborate. It’s currently unknown if this person is still on their radar.
1) Judy Kay Lowery Munguia, who went missing from Odessa, Texas on May 28, 1981.
2) Betty Irene Redmond, who went missing from Pasadena, Maryland on September 26, 1976.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jane Doe’s DNA, dentals and fingerprints are currently available for comparison.
Those with information regarding the identity of Jane Doe are asked to contact the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office at 573-855-1069, 573-774-7948 or 573-774-6196. Tips can also be called into the Pulaski County Coroner’s Office at 573-433-1557, or the Missouri State Highway Patrol at either 573-368-2221 or 573-526-6178.
Image Credit: The Doe Network/Carl Koppelman