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VIROQUA, Wis. (AP) — Advances in DNA technology and facial reconstruction could help investigators in Vernon County learn the identity of a homicide victim 31 years after her body was found along a rural road.
The remains of the woman, buried as Jane Doe, were exhumed this week at the Viroqua Cemetery and sent to the State Crime Lab for analysis.
John Spears is the third sheriff in Vernon County to handle the unsolved case. Spears made the decision to exhume the remains of the woman who had been bludgeoned in the head and whose hands were severed.
“DNA evidence, the technology, the training. A lot has changed,” Spears said.
Three area youth were driving along a rural road near Westby on the night of May 4, 1984, when they spotted the woman’s body, drove to a nearby farm and called the sheriff’s department. Investigators said the woman, likely age 50 to 65, most likely was killed elsewhere and her body left by the roadside. An autopsy showed she had died of head injuries.
The crime lab was expected to return the remains Friday, Spears said, and they will be reburied within a few days. The lab’s analysis, including measurements, will be forwarded to the University of North Texas where forensic anthropologists will reconstruct the victim’s face.
Posters with a photo of the woman’s face after she was embalmed were circulated in 1984, but Spears is hopeful UNT specialists will produce a picture that more closely resembles the victim.
“This is a woman who probably lived half of her life. I can’t believe someone doesn’t know her,” Spears said.
Sheriff’s officials said more than 400 leads on missing middle-age females have been investigated over the years in an attempt to identify Jane Doe.