During the late morning of June 16, 1974, a man and his two teenage children were searching for driftwood in a dense and swampy wooded area of Singer Island, located in North Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida. At just before noon, they were along the eastern edge of the Intracoastal Waterway, just north of the SR A1A bridge and two miles south of Lost Tree Village when they came across what appeared to be scattered bone fragments. Further police investigation would uncover a skull and lower jaw bone.
What remains investigators were able to locate were brought in for examination. It was determined that animal activity, likely by birds and land crabs, had scattered the remains, so the medical examiner was unable to determine if the deceased had been buried or her body simply dumped above ground.
The state of the remains also made it difficult to determine the time of death, which is estimated to have occurred somewhere between two and 18 months before discovery. The cause of death is still unknown. Holes in the sweater the deceased had been wearing appear to indicate the manner of death was homicide, possibly by gunshot, but no bullets were recovered at the scene.
There was very little to go on, in regard to finding out Jane Doe’s identity. There had been a small amount of tissue present with the bones, which was sent off for testing, and the medical examiner had to rely on dental records, as her skull and lower jaw were the only remains found in near-perfect condition. All that was missing from the skull was one intact tooth.
The deceased is believed to have been a white female between the ages of 14 and 25. She stood anywhere from 4’11” to 5’2″ and weighed approximately 83 to 103 pounds. She likely had strawberry blonde hair, and due to the level of decomposition at the time of her discovery, her eye colour was unable to be determined.
Clothing found at the scene included a black knit pullover sweater that was trimmed at the bottom, with a grey waistband and long grey sleeves that were capped at the shoulders; size 5 yellow bikini panties that had on them yellow metallic stripes; and blue denim material that appears to have originated from a pair of high-cropped denim shorts.
It appears Jane Doe had received dental work at some point in her life, as three of her teeth had fillings, with three more needing attention. It’s believed she also had a prominent overbite, as her front teeth irregularly overlapped.
At one point during the investigation, she was believed to be Bonnie Robinson, a young girl who had gone missing from Detroit, Michigan. This theory occurred during a point in the case where they were looking into the possibility of her having gone missing from the state. However, Bonnie was ruled out after further examination of the remains. The man who confessed to killing Bonnie, 17-year-old Terry Wayne Walker, was also ruled out as a suspect in Jane Doe’s murder.
Her body was exhumed in April 2014.
It’s believed Jane Doe may have been a victim of Gerard John Schaefer, a serial killer who worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Martin County, Florida. His crime spree spanned from 1969 to 1973, and he was eventually arrested and convicted of the murders of 17-year-old Susan Place and 16-year-old Georgia Jessup, this after a previous conviction for aggravated assault in relation to previous abductions resulted in only a one-year sentence. Police believe he’s responsible for the disappearances of around 30 women, including those of 20-year-old Pamela Nater, 22-year-old Carmen Hallock, 21-year-old Nancy Leichner, 8-year-old Wendy Stevenson, 13-year-old Debora Lowe and 9-year-old Peggy Rahn.
1) Debora Sue Lowe, who went missing from Pompano Beach, Florida on February 29, 1972.
2) Diane Sue Gilchrist, who went missing from Vancouver, Washington on May 29, 1974.
3) Gail Lorraine Joiner, who went missing from Thonotosassa, Florida on September 22, 1972.
4) Helen Irene Allison, who went missing from Fairfax, Virginia on May 11, 1972.
5) Judy Lynn Davis, who went missing from Jacksonville, Florida on May 13, 1972.
6) Peggy Ann Reed, who went missing from Sonoma County, California on March 1, 1974.
7) Sheryl Ann Tillinghast, who went missing from Wassaic, New York on September 24, 1973.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jane Doe’s dentals and mtDNA are available for comparison.
Those with information regarding the identity of Jane Doe are asked to contact the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office at 561-668-3000 or the District 51 Medical Examiner Office – Palm Beach County at 561-688-4575.
Image Credit: A. Krick