In the early afternoon hours of February 16, 1988, a horseback rider travelling along a dirt road in the unincorporated Lower Yakima Valley community of Parker, Washington discovered skeletal remains in the brush. He contacted the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, who arrived on scene.
The location where the remains were found is within sight of I-82, and runs east from Parker Bridge Road to the Sunnyside Diversion Dam on the Yakima River. According to investigators, the body had been dumped just far enough off the road that someone driving by wouldn’t see it.
The remains were transported to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, where it was determined the deceased had been dead for approximately two to 10 months. This timeframe was later narrowed to between four and 10 months.
Her remains didn’t show any obvious signs of trauma, and the level of decomposition made it so that a cause of death couldn’t be determined. However, the circumstances surrounding the case led investigators to presume Jane Doe had been murdered. It’s believed she may have been strangled, but they can’t be certain.
It was noted she was missing a few bones in her right hand, as well as her hyoid bone.
The deceased is described as a Native American or possibly Hispanic female between the ages of 26 and 40. She had a petite build, standing between 4’11” and 5’1″ and likely weighing no more than 120 pounds. She had 12″ black or dark brown hair that was bleached a lighter brown in the front. Due to the level of decomposition, her eye colour couldn’t be determined.
She had very high cheekbones, and the autopsy revealed she’d never had any dental work done.
When found, Jane Doe was wearing a long-sleeved lavender blouse with a Mexican label; lavender pants; lavender-coloured argyle socks; and brown, “bowling-type” shoes with one white sole and the other, black. The bowling shoes were of particular interest to investigators, who visited alleys in Toppenish and Wapato to see if employees recognized them. However, no one could identify them. Given they appeared to be worn as a street shoe, it’s theorized the deceased was not a bowler, as a regular wouldn’t wear them outside a bowling alley.
Her high cheekbones led investigators to theorize she was of Native American descent. However, they do not believe she was part of the Yakama Nation. During the 1980s and early ’90s, there were 32 unsolved missing persons and death investigations, as well as two murders by convicted serial rapist John Bill Fletcher Jr. Fletcher was convicted of the 1987 murders of 20-year-old Theresa Branscomb and 26-year-old Bertha Cantu, both of whom had been found near Parker. He also took two other women to the area and raped them. One was stabbed 16 times, but managed to escape and flag down a passing vehicle.
Her information led to Fletcher’s arrest in August 1987.
There are some who believe Jane Doe’s killer was from the area or had strong ties to it, given the location of the body. While the dirt road is known to tribal citizens and some nearby residents, it’s easy to miss if you’re not familiar with the area. Given the lack of evidence found at the scene, it’s theorized Jane Doe was killed elsewhere and taken to the location. It’s likely she was pulled out of a vehicle by her arms or armpits, as her head was the farthest from the dirt road.
It was announced in December 2018 that Jane Doe’s remains would be exhumed for DNA testing. Due to budget constraints, this didn’t occur until October 2021, after which the body was transported to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, where her skull had been moved a few months earlier. The latter was due to concerns of improper storage at Central Washington University, where it had been held since a facial reconstruction was made in the late 1980s.
1) Daisy Mae Heath, who went missing from White Swan, Washington on August 30, 1987.
2) Karen Louise Johnley Wallahee, who went missing from Yakima, Washington on November 7, 1987.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jane Doe’s dentals are currently available for comparison.
Those with information regarding the identity of Jane Doe are asked to contact the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office at 509-574-2500 or the Yakima County Coroner’s Office at 509-574-1610.
Image Credit: Natalie Murry/The Doe Network