Unsolved 1976 killing gets another look

Police seek new leads in death of `Jane Doe'

January 08, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

When a young woman's body was discovered on a road near a cemetery in Woodlawn in 1976, Baltimore County police had hundreds of leads -- people called nearly every day to say that their sister or friend or a dancer they'd seen on the Block resembled the victim, who had been strangled.

But it has been a long time since anyone has called about the unsolved killing, and even longer since someone has tried to help detectives identify the woman, who remains known simply as Jane Doe.

More than 26 years after her death, Baltimore County police tried again yesterday to generate interest in a case that has led them all over the country in search of information to help them figure out who the woman was, who killed her and why.

"There's no particular lead, no new development in the case," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. Detectives think someone in the area might know something about the case, he said.

"It happens that way sometimes," Toohey said. "There may be someone still feeling remorse. There may be old relationships that have now broken. It's not unusual for a detective to show up on a doorstep years after [a killing] to see if someone has broken up with the person they were dating back then."

Police said the woman was probably in her late teens to early 20s when she was killed. Based on the autopsy, they think she was strangled in the 24 hours before her body was found by a passing motorist Sept. 12, 1976, in the 5600 block of Dogwood Road, not far from Lorraine Park Cemetery. Police say her body was probably dumped there.

The woman had shoulder-length brown hair and brown eyes, a scar on her left thigh and a tattoo on her right arm that appeared to be the letters "JP" but could have represented something else, police said. She was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 159 pounds and wore a white pullover, beige-yellow Levi jeans and a rawhide string necklace with a small, blue object attached.

This is not the first time county police have revived the case. As recently as 1998, police publicized the killing, hoping to generate new leads.

"After this much time, it becomes harder and harder because people's memories fade," Toohey said.

Late last year, county police assigned two veteran homicide detectives, Philip G. Marll and James W. Tincher, to a newly invigorated cold-case squad that is dedicated to old, unsolved killings.

In the weeks and months after the woman's body was found, police received hundreds of phone calls and tips. Sisters, mothers, landlords, taxi drivers and drug dealers told police they thought they knew who the young woman was. But none of the tips checked out, according to a review of the investigative file.

Detectives distributed fliers about the woman to dancers and bartenders on The Block, posted them around Fells Point and passed them out at area hospitals, clinics and jails. Missing-person reports, fingerprint and dental records were checked across the country.

Detectives checked out similarities between the woman's death and cases from as far away as Illinois and California. Investigators accumulated a 6-inch-thick file, but nothing in it brought them much closer to solving the mystery.

More recently, they added information to the Doe Network, an international Web site of unidentified murder victims, Toohey said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call police at 410-307-2020.

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