BASTROP COUNTY, Texas – The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office is trying to solve a decades-old cold case with the help of advanced DNA testing technology.
They’re trying to identify the body of a “Jane Doe” discovered in 1979 on US 290 east of Elgin. Detectives say in 2019, a documentary filmmaker contacted the Sheriff’s Office about a possible connection with serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.
That year, investigators exhumed the body to do newer DNA testing, comparing it to missing persons systems. There were no matches. A second exhumation was done in 2022.
Now, the Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the company Othram to see if advanced DNA testing can help identify the woman. Investigators say they want to rule out a connection with Henry Lee Lucas.
The unknown woman is Caucasian between 17 and 40 years old, according to DNASolves, which is part of Othram. She is estimated to be between 5’0″ and 5’2″ and to have weighed between 90 and 130 lbs. Her hair was most likely brown, but investigators were not able to determine eye color.
When she was discovered, the woman was wearing a white pullover shirt with red trim around the neck and an Evian JRS brand label, as well as dark-colored unlabeled blue jeans with a tag that read “styled in California, size 13-14.”
Investigators say the woman’s cause of death couldn’t be determined because of advanced decomposition. It’s estimated that she died four to six weeks before her body was discovered. Officials say she may have been hit by a car.
“There are family members waiting for answers, and they won’t be around forever,” Othram founder and CEO David Mittelman said. “When we see an opportunity to do some good, we’ve got a case that we know is tractable, the evidence is good. There’s no scientific barrier, right? The only real barrier is that they just don’t have funding.”
Funding comes from different sources like crowdfunding, philanthropists, or sponsorships. The goal is to raise $7,500 for the case of Bastrop County Jane Doe.
“New technology has got to make its way into the budgets,” Mittelman said. “It bridges that gap between when they can get funded and now so we can still help families.”
He says their lab is the only one of its kind in North America.
“We can access information from evidence that’s been previously considered unusable or unworkable,” he said.
As long as there is DNA that can be extracted in a case, they look out why testing may not have worked before. They’ll do a multi-point inspection and see if they can make a DNA profile. If not, they hold onto it and can come back to it.
The lab does forensic-grade genome sequencing to make a digital profile. They can see if there are any family connections and look at the historical origins. The process can take a few days up to 12 weeks, especially if the evidence is older.
Technology is always improving.
“We’re in a constant state of iteration, and I think that’ll continue as this technology becomes more robust,” Mittelman said.
As for Jane Doe, the hope is there will be answers soon.
If you are interested in donating, click here. Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office and reference case 79-06-000688.
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