Author Topic: ALBANY COUNTY JANE DOE: WF, 28-58, found in Fox Park, WY - 2 August 1999  (Read 290 times)


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John/Jane Does -- including Bitter Creek Betty -- frustrate Wyoming investigators

By MEGAN CASSIDY Star-Tribune staff writer
Nov 11, 2012
bout 4:35 p.m. on March 1, 1992, a Nebraska trucker pulled into the Bitter Creek truck turnout on Interstate 80 to switch fuel tanks. Sipping coffee into the fading daylight hours, Barbara Leverton’s eyes focused on what appeared to be a couple of trash bags in the distance.

“Something about the curve,” the now 73-year-old said recently, suggested the bags were in the shape of a person.

Leverton walked to where she could look directly over the shape and saw a body lying in the snow at the bottom of the embankment. The instance predated ubiquitous cell phone usage, so Leverton radioed — to anyone — what she found. Another trucker forwarded the transmission to law enforcement.

The woman now known only as Bitter Creek Betty was on her stomach with her head turned, completely ****.

There are hundreds of women Bitter Creek Betty definitely isn’t. In the 20 years since her death, officers, forensic scientists and armchair detectives have painstakingly established this as one of the case’s certainties.

In 2011, Betty’s information was entered into a national database called NamUs. The system houses the often scattered evidence of unidentified victims from various agencies into one centralized location. It additionally holds a missing persons database that automatically checks for potential matches with unidentified remains.

As of August, NamUs has had a direct hand in reuniting 117 bodies with their identities. Despite the exponential advancements in DNA and other technologies in recent decades, Bitter Creek Betty and at least 10 other Wyoming Jane and John Does rest in a nameless purgatory.

Betty and her fellow Sweetwater County Does are buried, sans headstones, somewhere underneath a narrow swath of grass that buffers the road and the named decedents at Rest Haven Memorial Gardens cemetery.

No protocol in Wyoming requires county law enforcement officials to report unidentified remains or missing persons to any statewide or nationwide agency. Therefore no exhaustive list of remains exists for the state. All records are maintained by the county coroners’ offices.

The Star-Tribune was able to reach 21 of the 23 coroners in Wyoming to obtain such lists, and found that there are at least 11 modern, nonprehistoric remains in the state, dating to the 1980s. Five of these remains have been entered into the NamUS network, two on a volunteer-run “Doe Network,” and two on Wyoming’s Division of Criminal Investigation website, one of which was actually found in Colorado. Only one, a Jane Doe from Sheridan, appears on all three.

Steve Holloway, deputy director at Wyoming DCI’s state crime lab said state-aided investigations are predicated on reporting from the counties. There is no protocol for them to perform state reviews, and no statute requires local agencies to ask for help.

The Wyoming Crime Lab has the only forensic laboratory in the state, he said, and works closely with several nationwide networks, such as NamUs and the University of North Texas’ Center for Human Identification.

Holloway said identifying bodies “depends quite a bit” on whether the local agencies report missing people and obtain DNA samples from relatives, “so there’s something to identify those unidentified bodies to.”

A new law may soon give local law enforcement incentives to do so.

Jan Smolinski, mother of Billy Smolinski, helped her state pass a law that requires Connecticut law enforcement to take missing adult cases seriously.

On Aug. 24, 2004, 31-year-old Billy vanished from his home in Waterbury, Conn. His family was required to wait three days to report him missing, but after filing the report, Jan Smolinski said police did next to nothing.

It took four years before his case was filed correctly in the National Crime Information Center computer index, she said, and it wasn’t until the FBI was involved that proper reports and DNA samples were filed.

She’s now looking nationally. “Billy’s Law” would provide grants to law enforcement to promote reporting to NamUS and NCIC, as well as linking the two databases.

After her ordeal, Smolinski describes agency reporting as a complete “disconnect” and feels that simply informing officers of the new technologies would facilitate sharing information.

“It’s so important to get [identifying information] into the database,” she said. “NamUs is fantastic … it’s like having a million eyes looking at it at one time.”

Billy’s Law was passed by the U.S. House in 2010 but was opposed by a senator from Oklahoma. Its funding has been decreased from $10 million to $8 million and was recently reintroduced into Congress. Smolinski said they are now looking for cosponsors, and are hoping it will be voted on again this year.

One of NamUs and Wyoming’s most recent successes was Rosella Lovell — a former Jane Doe who was identified through facial reconstruction, dental records and a dedicated local team.

“We tried a billion different things,” said Albany Coroner Kathleen Vernon-Kubichek “It was difficult because I really cared about identifying her. I thought about it all the time.”

Once former Wyoming Crime Lab Director Sandy Mays completed the facial reconstruction last month and local media published the work, the calls started coming in.