Author Topic: ST. CLAIR JANE DOE: BF, 20-30, found in a burning dumpster in St. Clair, MI - 26 May 2003  (Read 237 times)


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Women with no names: St. Clair County's unidentified victims


Beth LeBlanc, Times Herald

Ten days have passed since hunters found a human skull and bones in a lonely wood in Burtchville Township.

In the days since the discovery, little has been released about the identity of the remains or the circumstances that led to their final resting place in northern St. Clair County.

But the days-long wait is a fraction of the time that two other bodies in St. Clair County — discovered in 2003 — have gone unidentified.

For more than 12 years, those two women have gone by varying titles: Victim. Deceased. Jane Doe.

But their true names are unknown.

Their deaths and the hunt for their identities have frustrated investigators who would like to give a family, somewhere, some closure.

“Everybody deserves a name,” said Mary Palmateer, chief forensic investigator for the St. Clair County Medical Examiner’s office.

“There’s family of these people out there who are hopefully looking for them.”

The women were recovered in 2003, one in St. Clair Township and the other in the St. Clair River, but remain unnamed.

Despite the time that's lapsed since the woman's deaths, investigators are confident that one day they'll be named. Two other women, whose cases challenged investigators for months and years, are testament to that belief.

A break in the case just this week of a woman killed in a September hit-and-run crash in Port Huron has led to the confirmation of her identity.

And a 1994 Cottrellville Township case is proof that, even after close to two decades, an unknown identity can be found.

Investigators hope the retelling of the four women's stories will generate new information that could refuel investigations.

In St. Clair Township: An identity burned away
She was found burning in a dumpster, and few clues survived the flames.

Pieces of clothing remained, as did a mirror and plastic baggy in her pocket — but, even 12 years later, the woman found in the dumpster beside a factory on Wadhams Road May 26, 2003, remains unidentified.

Her remains have been buried in Port Huron Township.

But her DNA and some hope of her eventual identification survive.

“She was a younger girl and there’s somebody that misses that girl,” Palmateer said.

“She deserves a name. Before I retire, I want to find out what that is.”

A passerby discovered the woman’s remains in a smoking dumpster beside Wadhams Road over Memorial Day weekend in 2003.

According to police reports, investigators canvassed the area around the scene. They talked to the passersby who found her, the nearby business owners, gas station attendants and neighbors.

They pulled surveillance footage from area gas stations and checked the victim against missing persons from throughout the state, according to police reports.

There were some leads, but none that resulted in an identification of the woman.

At the medical examiner’s office, officials were able to determine that the body was that of a light-skinned black woman between 19 and 35 years old, and that her teeth were in good condition, indicating a younger person.

Michigan State Police was able to make a sketch of the woman that was released to media, but the woman's identity remained unknown.

Police released a forensic face sketch of a woman whose body was found in a burning Dumpster in May 2003.
(Photo: Submitted)

The woman was believed to be between 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-7 and weighed an estimated 130 pounds.

The autopsy further indicated there was no evidence the woman had been shot, strangled or stabbed.

The medical examiner at the time determined the woman had **** in her system and possibly had died several days prior to her body being burned. Her cause of death in the 2003 autopsy was listed as acute **** intoxication, according to police reports.

But Spitz, who took over as medical examiner a few years after the woman was found, said an accidental overdose doesn't necessarily match with the circumstances surrounding her death.

"At face value, I do doubt that," Spitz said. "You don’t usually have a drug overdose where someone ends up burned in a dumpster.”

In 2009, the University of North Texas Health Science Center was able to establish nuclear and mitochondrial DNA profiles for the woman.

Her information is entered into NamUs, or the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

NamUs began after a 2004 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found about 13,000 unidentified bodies remained in morgues throughout the United States, said Lori Bruski, NamUs regional system administrator.

That number jumped to about 40,000 when those unidentified bodies already cremated and buried were taken into account.

The site attempts to connect families, law enforcement and medical examiners investigating missing persons cases to unidentified bodies by releasing limited information on each of the cases.

NamUs is a National Institute of Justice program managed by the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

By obtaining information on DNA profiles like the woman found in the St. Clair Township dumpster, NamUs makes it easier for families and police agencies with missing persons to search for a match, Bruski said.

But, in order for a match to be made between the woman and her family, a relative missing a family member must submit a DNA sample as well.

“Any missing person needs to be put into the system and they need to get family DNA into the system,” Palmateer said.

So far, there have been no matches for the St. Clair Township woman.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Detective Colleen Titus at (810) 987-17