Authorities identify ‘Jane Doe’ who died along Boulder-area creek 55 years ago
October 29, 2009
DENVER (AP) – Police on a cold case hunt have finally identified a woman whose nude and battered body was found along a Boulder creek 55 years ago. But it’s not over – they want to name the killer.
She was buried under a headstone that read “Jane Doe” and remained anonymous until a DNA test revealed that she was Dorothy Gay Howard of Phoenix, officials announced Wednesday. Howard had been reported missing in March 1954 when she was 18.
The ID was resolved by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department, Internet research and the persistence of local historian Silvia Pettem. Sheriff Joe Pelle, whose department renewed efforts five years ago to find out who she was, said a relative provided the genetic sample.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Rick Brough said it was gratifying to finally know who the woman was. But he added “it’s not closed yet;” the department still wants to find Howard’s killer.
“With her identification, a major piece of the puzzle has been added,” said detective Steve Ainsworth, the lead investigator.
Officials say serial killer Harvey Glatman, executed in 1959 in California, might have murdered Howard. Glatman, who confessed to killing three women, had served time in a Colorado state prison for violent assaults on women.
“I’m confident now that we will be able to find the missing links that will tie this all together,” Ainsworth said.
Sheriff’s officials have credited historian Pettem with encouraging them to renew efforts to identify the woman buried in a Boulder cemetery with a gravestone that reads “Jane Doe – April 1954 – Age About 20 Years.”
Pettem became interested in the woman and her story after visiting the cemetery in the 1990s. She wrote the book “Someone’s Daughter, In Search of Justice for Jane Doe.”
“After 55 years, we can put her name on the grave,” Pettem told The Associated Press.
But there’s still the fact that a young woman’s life ended so tragically, Pettem said. “I have almost been grieving for her,” she said.
The mystery that made headlines across Colorado when the woman’s body was found in 1954 was renewed in 2004 after investigators exhumed the body to extract DNA. A sculpture of her head was made using her reconstructed skull.
Howard’s DNA profile was added to the FBI’s national database of missing persons.
For a while, investigators thought Jane Doe was possibly a Denver woman reporting missing in 1954. They learned through an Internet contact earlier this year that the missing woman was alive and living in Australia.
It was another Internet contact that finally led to Howard’s identity. Pettem said Howard’s great-niece had been following the story on Pettem’s Web site and contacted her, saying the mystery woman might be a relative.
“There was something about this young woman, she just sounded right,” Pettem said. “I urged her to contact the sheriff’s office.”
Howard’s younger sister provided DNA, which was a match with Jane Doe. Police said the relatives don’t want their names or location released and want Howard to remain buried in Boulder.
Pettem hopes they don’t change their minds. Boulder residents raised the money in 1954 to buy her a gravestone and again supported efforts to identify her.
“She’s a part of Boulder. I feel like she belongs,” Pettem said.