Cold Case

On June 29, 2024, a Celebration of life was held for "Vicky" at her church, Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Cincinnati, OH. Family and friends were finally able to reunite and honor her after forty-seven years. 

A committal service will be held on July 2, 2024, at Evening Star Cemetery, Greenwood, SC, where "Vicky" will be interned with her parents.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE FOR "VICKY" SMITH


UPDATE 06/27/2024:

1976 Jane Doe Identified

Woman found in Grundy County identified as JoAnn “Vicky” Smith

DNA Identified

Morris, IL - After more than 47 years, the remains of a young Black woman found near Seneca, Illinois have been identified as JoAnn “Vicky” Smith of Ohio by a dedicated team of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists with the DNA Doe Project.

 

Investigators on the scene in 1976 quickly ran out of leads to the identity of the Jane Doe found in a ditch alongside US Highway 6. They knew she had been shot in the head, and knowing her name was an important first step in solving her murder.  After two months of searching, she was buried in an unmarked grave, but her case was far from closed. 

 

In late 2017, the Grundy County Coroner’s Office reopened the cold case, in the hopes of using modern day DNA and forensics. On December 18, 2018, Jane Doe was subsequently exhumed from her unmarked resting place of forty-two years. With the assistance of NamUs, remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center For Human Identification in Fort Worth, TX. DNA was then developed and entered into CODIS, a national DNA database, which yielded negative results.

 

Deputy Chief Brandon Johnson of the Grundy County Coroner’s Office connected with the DNA Doe Project to try a newly developed technique to find her identity. DNA Doe Project deploys teams of expert volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who analyze the relative matches to the unknown person’s DNA to build a family tree. It would take four and a half years of dedicated work to narrow the search to the right branch of Vickie Smith’s tree and find her name.

 

“At some point everyone worked on this case,” said Margaret Press, who founded the DNA Doe Project in 2017. “She has been at the top of my list of cases I wanted to see identified.”

 

In fact, the list of volunteers who have worked on this case reads like a Who’s Who of DNA Doe Project leadership, including more than 20 expert genetic genealogists and all of the original volunteer cohort. Their work resolves one of DNA Doe Project’s oldest and most intractable active cases.

 

African-American Jane and John Does are often much more difficult to identify than people of Northern European descent because African-Americans are underrepresented in the public databases that allow law enforcement cases like this. This case was further complicated by the fact that Vicky had been adopted. Her DNA profile matched to a number of her distant biological relatives, but most people in her birth family didn’t know she existed. Her name was finally found after the team located a branch of her tree with three sisters, one of whom was her birth mother. With the assistance of Cincinnati Health Department Vital Records, Johnson located her original birth certificate. After extensive searches, Johnson requested assistance from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and subsequently adoption records were located by the Hamilton County Probate Court based on the lead provided by the DNA Doe Project team.

 

“The team really thought that she would be identified last summer once her grandparents had been identified,” said Eric Hendershott, team leader on the case. “However, it was only after contact was made with her biological family that adoption was suspected.”

 

In addition to DNA work on this case, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) also supported the case, providing resources, a facial reconstruction, and publicity in the hopes that she would be recognized. NCMEC kept her face and story in the public eye, contributing to numerous press articles over the years.

 

“A lot of people worked to keep this young woman’s story alive for 47 years so that she could get her name back and give her family some answers about her disappearance,” said Pam Lauritzen, Executive Director of Media and Communications with the DNA Doe Project. “It is an honor for all of us to say her name - Vickie Smith - and to know she’s on her way home.”

 

The DNA Doe Project is grateful to the groups and individuals who helped resolve this case: Brandon Johnson of the Grundy County Coroner’s Office, who entrusted the case to the DNA Doe Project; DNA Solutions for extraction of DNA; HudsonAlpha Discovery for sequencing; Greg Magoon for bioinformatics; GEDmatch Pro and FTDNA for providing their databases; the team at NCMEC for bringing so much attention to the case; our generous donors who joined our mission and contributed to this case; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who work tirelessly to bring all our Jane and John Does home.

VIEW THE PRESS CONFERENCE

About the DNA Doe Project

The DNA Doe Project is a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission to identify John and Jane Does and return them to their families and communities. Investigative genetic genealogy research is provided pro bono to our partners in law enforcement, but the organization relies on donations to fund lab costs and operational support of our volunteers. To date, DDP has helped resolve more than 110 cases of unidentified human remains. For more about our work and to join our mission, visit our website: https://dnadoeproject.org.

 

 

###

 






Update as of 06/24/2024:

Grundy County Coroner’s Office
John W. Callahan, Coroner
1320 Union St.
Morris, IL  60450
Phone – 815-942-3792
Fax – 815-941-3355

 

Grundy County Coroner John W. Callahan’s office has identified the victim of a 1976 Cold Case Homicide.

 

On the afternoon of October 2, 1976, a local farmer discovered the body of an unidentified African American female, alongside rural U.S. Route 6, near Seneca, Illinois. The investigation into the death soon began.

 

After exhausting all efforts of attempting to identify the female, she was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave at the Braceville-Gardner Cemetery on Thanksgiving Day 1976.

 

For years the case remained cold and was reopened by the Coroner’s Office in late-2017, hoping to use modern-day forensic science techniques and technology to finally give the victim her name back. The unidentified female was subsequently exhumed on December 18, 2018, and efforts to obtain DNA began.

 

The victim’s identity will be released at a press conference held by the Coroner’s Office, on Thursday, June 27, 2024, at 1:00 p.m., in the boardroom of the Grundy County Administration Center, 1320 Union Street, Morris, IL 60450.






Who Was "Jane Seneca Doe?" Discovered on October 2, 1976 

Update as of 01/31/2024:
UP17621-Grundy-IL-Oct-76-BlkFem-001Grundy County Coroner’s Office
John W. Callahan, Coroner
1320 Union St.
Morris, IL 60450
Phone – 815-942-3792
Fax – 815-941-3355

The Grundy County Coroner’s Office is releasing an update into the cold case investigation of an unidentified homicide victim from 1976.

On October 2, 1976, the body of an African-American-Female, who was estimated to be between fifteen and twenty-seven years of age, was discovered in a ditch, alongside U.S. Route 6 near Holderman Hill, in unincorporated Seneca, Illinois. The victim had been shot in the head and discarded in this rural area. After being unidentified for approximately a month, the victim was buried without her name, in an unmarked grave at the Braceville-Gardner Cemetery in Braceville, Illinois, where she remained, until investigators from the Coroner’s Office exhumed her remains in December of 2018, to utilize modern-day Forensic Science and DNA techniques.

Since May of 2019, the Grundy County Coroner’s Office has been working closely with the DNA Doe Project, an organization that utilizes genetic genealogy to assist in identifying the unidentified.

Throughout the course of months of efforts, the DNA Doe Project has successfully located a close match to Jane Seneca Doe.
Due to an extensive family tree, the Grundy County Coroner’s Office and the DNA Doe Project are requesting the public’s assistance in helping to finally identify Jane Seneca Doe.

The following is the updated information known at this time:

  • Jane Seneca Doe was likely born between 1948 and 1960 and would have been missing by October 1976.
  • One of her parent’s last name was likely CALHOUN, and this parent was initially born in Selma, Alabama. This parent may have moved to Cincinnati, Ohio at some point in his/ her life.
  • Her other parent has ancestral ties to Polk County, Georgia; Lawrence County, Alabama; and/ or Jefferson County, Alabama. Ancestral surnames of interest for her other parent are possibly ENSLEY or BYNUM (This does not necessarily mean that this second parent had one of these surnames).
  •  Jane Seneca Doe may have been born in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. There is a possibility that she may have been adopted or not raised by her biological family.
  • You can help by uploading your DNA to GEDmatch or Family Tree DNA if you are from these geographic areas and/ or have these surnames in your family tree.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact Deputy Chief Brandon Johnson at 815-941-3359 or e-mail: bjohnson@grundycountyil.gov

An artist-rendered-image of how Jane Seneca Doe may have appeared in life. Image courtesy of volunteer artist, Carl Koppelman.

Unidentified Black Female - October 2, 1976
NCMEC
Click here to listen to the ‘Vanished Podcast’ regarding this case.
UP17621-Grundy-IL-Oct-76-BlkFem-001
Courtesy of Carl Koppelman

Grundy County Coroner’s Office
John W. Callahan, Coroner
1320 Union St.
Morris, IL  60450
Phone – 815-942-3792
Fax – 815-941-3355

Grundy County Coroner John W. Callahan is releasing details regarding a death investigation of a cold case of an unidentified female. The body was found on October 2, 1976 in a farm field in western Grundy County. Investigators from the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department and Illinois State Police in conjunction with the Coroner, worked the case for a period of time. After several weeks of not being able to make any identification, the body was buried under the authority of the Grundy County Coroner. Not only were there no identification leads, but also the fact that the death was ruled a Homicide from a gunshot wound to the head.

Coroner Callahan states that at the time in 1976, authorities exhausted all possibilities with the investigative tools of that time. Today, there is so much more in the way of DNA, advanced fingerprinting, facial sketch artists just to name a few that my office felt it was an opportune time to look further into the death. Coroner Callahan also states, “I’ve known about this unidentified female since I started in the Coroner’s office in 1994 and it has troubled me that someone’s loved one is buried here and was never identified.” Coroner Callahan states that he understands that this is a “long shot” in hopes of identification and even further of any hope of finding the killer. I do believe my office has put together a very solid case presentation with the help of evidence that was kept by the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department and assistance from the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, along with NamUs.

The following is a current news release, along with the sketch and two articles from 1976, when she was found:

Grundy County, Illinois-The Grundy County Coroner’s Office is seeking the public’s assistance in helping to identify a victim from a 1976 cold case. On October 2, 1976, the body of a Female was found in a ditch, located on the Western edge of rural Grundy County. The victim was described as a Female Black, between 18-23 years of age, with black hair, brown eyes, 5’7” and 150 lbs. With so much advancement in Forensic Science over the years, our office is taking a fresh look at this case. With the help of an illustrator, who was able to design this image to help depict how the victim may have looked at the time of her death. We understand that this is someone’s daughter and loved one. Please help us in bringing closure to her family after forty-two years. Anyone with information that can lead us to the identity of this female is asked to contact Deputy Coroner Brandon Johnson at the Grundy County Coroner’s Office at 815-942-3792 or bjohnson@grundycountyil.gov

The Coroner’s office is also working with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS) as well as The Doe Network: International Center For Unidentified & Missing Persons to help identify the victim.

A special thanks to NBC 5 investigates and Phil Rogers for featuring our cold case. You can view the segment by visiting the following link.