January 17, 2005
Citizen sleuths help track missing persons
by Jason Kravarik
WICHITA, Kansas, Jan 13, 2006 -- Twenty years ago this month a woman’s body turned up in a Kansas creek. Her identity, to this day, is unknown but the mystery spotlights a unique group of people who keep on searching -- the citizen sleuths who never forget. They are everyday people with a home computer and a little compassion. Long after police are moved to other cases there are neighbors among us keeping hope alive.
"They found a white female laying face down in a shallow creek. It appeared she had been beaten and it just appeared that someone threw her over that bridge into the water," said Investigator Mike Smith, Saline County Sheriff’s Department. It is that image that nags Smith nearly 20 years after a body turned up near this central Kansas town. A trucker headed west on I-70 first spotted it west of Salina. "But obviously -- at this time of year it was very cold -- the state of undress she was found in she would not be out hitchhiking in that frigid of weather," said Smith.
The clothing on the body is rare and pricey, usually found only on the coast and in Europe. Near the body was a pillowcase, knapsack and beige hat. What’s more, an autopsy suggested the woman had recently given birth. But with all that, there was no I.D.
"This person has to have a life someplace before this had happened to her. She’s got a name, she’s got family somewhere I’m sure," said Smith. Investigators scoured the area but come up empty. It would stay that way for years, the body waiting for any clue to give it meaning.
"My goal was to identify her and it still is to identify her," said Keeley Denning. Denning is a Salina woman who spends her own time searching for the identity of a woman she never met. Her reasons are simple: "We know she has at least one child and her child deserves to know where his mother is."
Denning began work on the case for The Doe Network, a group of citizens operating nationwide to match the missing to open police cases around the world. That means the internet is a primary resource and Denning is there every day, helping investigators.
"If I had to sit there behind the computer and do all of that I wouldn’t have time to do any other work or take care of my cases," said Smith. So far 300 women have been matched and then dismissed as possible Jane Doe’s. "There are so many missing persons who do fit our Jane Doe that ruling them out is going to help us find her," said Denning.
The closest match is a woman who turned up missing from Belgium in the early 1980’s. "Very close likeness. In fact, I’ll put it as the hair on the back of my neck stood up," said Smith. Especially when Smith learned the Belgian woman had given birth just before she went missing. Her foreign homeland was intriguing since the Saline County body was draped in European clothing. The lead, however, fizzled when someone in Belgium said they heard from the missing woman, alive in Canada.
Denning is not so sure. "I don’t accept that someone missing for 10 years would contact an acquaintance and not a family member," said Denning.
The roadblock hasn’t slowed Denning who, as an artist, constructed this image of the woman using autopsy photos. "There’s a lot of things that are lost in looks on death. You don’t look alive. I want her to look alive in my reconstruction." For now, the drawing provides the only identity for a body that’s gone 20 years without a name -- its life carried on only by a lone few who continue to search.
"I just want to know who she is. Somebody out there’s missing her. Somebody knows who she is. Somebody knows where she came from. I’m trying to put a name with a face," said Smith.
The Doe Network says, nationwide, 36 cases have been solved in part through their efforts. You can search their database by visiting doenetwork.org.
Warning The following link will take you to an actual picture of the victim. This picture was taken in the mortuary. The picture should be viewed by mature persons. Some persons may find this picture to be disturbing. Click Here for Picture
November 8, 2002
Unidentified body found in Saline County Kansas on
January 25, 1986
The partially clothed body of a white female was found along I-70 Interstate Highway. The victim was 5'5" tall, weighing 130 pounds, with brown hair and gray eyes. She was approximately 25 to 30 years old. Clothed in a beige Chandelle brand brassiere, size 32B, made in France, with French and European markings. She had on black "Jockey for Her" brand French cut bikini panties, knee high stockings and lavender sweat pants. The sweat pants were "Abraxas" brand, had two pockets on the front with up and down moving zippers. The victim had false fingernails painted bright red.
The victim had her appendix removed, there is a 1 inch scar on the jaw bone to the left of the chin and 3/4 inch scar on the jaw bone below the left cheek. There are stretch marks on the abdomen. There is a 3/4 inch circular scar on the right knee.
The victim had been severely beaten and the date of death has been estimated between 1/23/1986 and 1/24/1986. There was no jewelry or identification found.
If you have any information contact the Saline County Sheriff's Office at 785-826-6500.