David Harrison knows he might not achieve his goal: identify the skeletal remains of “Windy Point Jane Doe” before he retires.
But the Montrose County Sheriff’s investigator could be closer to cracking the cold case than those who came before him, thanks in part to technological advancements.
A new forensic reconstruction has provided a better idea of what the woman looks like, and forensic odontology has revealed similarities between her teeth and those of missing persons elsewhere.
“This is one of those cases that just eats at you because you know that somewhere, this lady has a family,” Sheriff Rick Dunlap said Thursday, as he and Harrison revealed photos of the recent forensic reconstruction of Windy Point Jane Doe’s skull.
“If we can help identify her and return her remains to her family, that’s our ultimate goal.”
Nineteen years ago — on July 7, 1994 — hikers near the Smokehouse Campground on Divide Road (Forest Service Road 402) found a human skull and mandible.
The U.S. Forest Service reported the find, launching a search of the area. Law enforcement agencies recovered more (but not all) bones, the location where the body had likely been placed, plus some artifacts that may have been associated with the remains.
Among these was a belt, in two pieces, consistent with a slender woman, Harrison said.
Hair found with the skull gave an approximate length and color — reddish brown and falling to perhaps the shoulders. The condition of the teeth revealed extensive dental work, including fillings and a gold crown.
Dr. Thomas Canfield, now the county coroner, was the forensic pathologist who received the bones. He and other forensic specialists determined the bones belonged to a Caucasian female, who was between 35 and 45 when she died, and who stood between 5-foot-4 and 5-foot-7.
Windy Point Jane Doe suffered from temporo-mandibular joint syndrome, scoliosis and lateral kyphosis (curvature) of the spine.
The woman could have lain in her lonely resting spot for as many as 18 months prior to discovery, Harrison said. Mummified skin clung to parts of the face, and the bones appeared sun bleached, he said. Harrison is hopeful that a decomposition specialist can provide a clearer picture of the timeline between Windy Point Jane Doe’s death and her discovery.
Such bones as were recovered tell a story — but it’s an incomplete one. Not only do investigators not know who Windy Point Jane Doe is, they have not determined how she died.
It appeared to some investigators that tree limbs had been placed over the body, suggesting deliberate concealment, though Canfield in 2008 said it was possible the branches had been put there by the wind.
“We’re really going to have to treat it as a homicide until we can prove otherwise,” Harrison said.
Canfield has been seeking information about the woman for nearly the past two decades. He sent her skull for a reconstruction several years ago and appealed to the public in 2008. (See Dec. 28, 2008 Daily Press.) He said on Thursday that he was glad to see an updated reconstruction.
Last year, Harrison obtained Dunlap’s permission to review the Windy Point Jane Doe file and to send the skull to the FBI in Quantico, Va. The federal agency had agreed to perform a facial reconstruction, which isn’t costing the county anything, Dunlap said.
The skull went first to an anthropologist who measured it and again confirmed European descent. Forensic artist Lisa Bailey entered the measurements and other data into a computer, which composed an image; she then created a replica, which she completed on May 1, ahead of schedule.
In one respect, though, the “cart was put before the horse,” Harrison said. The FBI asked for an odontological report after reconstruction on the skull had begun. That means the sheriff’s office will be getting a bare skull back, as the reconstructive work had to be removed after photos and videos were taken.
The reconstruction did not include testing for additional trace evidence, as there was no reason to conduct such testing, Harrison said.
The other bones were not retested; at autopsy and subsequent examinations, nothing showed bodily trauma. The bones did show carnivore damage and are thought to have been scattered by animals, per Canfield’s original report.
“You’re picking it up almost 20 years later,” investigator Toby Thorp said. “You can only use technology on the things that you have, that were collected at the time.”
The decisions on what was collected in 1994 could have themselves been dictated by technology available at the time.
Canfield had collected evidence and in 2008, sent off bone, dry tissue and hair samples for DNA profiles. The problem at the time was a lack of anything to which to compare that evidence for a “hit” or an ID.
Investigators are now seeing some progress.
The sheriff’s office has entered the Jane Doe’s DNA into the Combined DNA Index System. The forensic dental information was entered into the National Crime Information Center database, which yielded 32 hits. Several of these hits were ruled out almost immediately — 18 possible hits proved to belong to males, while others traced back to individuals lost in catastrophes.
But 12 hits remain, and Harrison is in contact with an agency in Tacoma, Wash., which has an active missing persons case from August 1993.
“There are many similarities, but there’s got to be more research done into that,” Harrison said. “You’ve got to try.”
Other possible similarities include an Aurora missing person case; other contenders have been ruled out, including an Arizona woman whose daughter also is missing.
Harrison combed through missing persons reports from 1992 to 1994, as well as reports of suspicious activity.
“I’m not finding anything that says she’s from Montrose. I know she’s from somewhere. ... Somewhere, someone is going to be able to recognize her,” he said.
The FBI also furnished him with a letter it had received; he said he could not divulge its contents, but is eager to speak with whomever wrote it.
“I would love to meet with the person who wrote that letter. If that person would just call me,” he said. Harrison can be reached at (970) 252-4003.
Harrison is going through a painstaking process of elimination as he compares Windy Point Jane Doe to other agencies’ cases. He is also reaching out to organizations that operate websites dedicated to spreading the word about missing persons.
“There’s a lot more to this case,” he said.