The remains of an Indiana woman who had been missing for over 30 years were successfully identified last week thanks to the joint efforts of UT’s Forensic Anthropology Center and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
On January 1, 1985, a woman was found dead on Interstate 75 near Jellico in Campbell County, Tennessee. Investigators recorded her fingerprints and several of her physical features, including eye and hair color. When law enforcement could not identify her, they brought the body to UT’s Anthropology Research Facility, also known as the Body Farm. There researchers helped estimate she was 20 years old at the time of her death.
“Her skeletal remains have been part of the laboratory’s collection ever since,” said Lee Meadows Jantz, associate director of the Forensic Anthropology Center.
It wasn’t until about a month ago, when TBI investigators decided to follow a lead from a blog about missing persons, that they were able to match the fingerprints with those of a person arrested in 1983 in Marion County, Indiana.
That’s how she went from Jane Doe to Tina Marie McKenney Farmer.
Authorities think she was one of the victims associated with the Redheaded Murders, a series of unsolved crimes that took place in Southern states between 1978 and 1992.
But why did it take so long to identify Farmer?
Information about missing and unidentified persons is usually recorded in nationally managed systems such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and the Combined DNA Index System.
In some instances, these systems require periodic updates for cases to remain active. NCIC, for example, requires that a yearly update be filed for every unidentified person.
These frequent updates are “a very time- and resource-consuming task that our local authorities and researchers cannot always perform on time,” Jantz said.
Over the past 45 years, UT’s Body Farm has received the remains of about 70 unidentified individuals. They have worked to resolve these cold cases for the past 10 years and so far have been able to successfully identify 20 individuals.
“We have also worked closely with TBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on at least five of our cold cases. They have provided support for further investigation,” said Jantz.
Currently, the Body Farm is working on groundbreaking forensics research in many areas, including the field of stable isotopes. This technique analyzes the chemical composition of various tissue samples to reveal details of a deceased person’s geographical context, providing clues about where they came from and where they last lived.
“We believe such information is critical, especially when trying to resolve cold cases,” Jantz said.
Andrea Schneibel (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-3993)