Body Discovered by Hunter in 1978 Identified as Missing Iowa Girl, Decades-Old Case Solved

A decades-long cold case has been solved when detectives identified a body discovered in 1978 as that of a missing Iowa teenager.

Police reported the body of “Lincoln County Jane Doe” was discovered in 1978. The remains were discovered in the Mississippi River near Elsberry, Missouri, according to a news release from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. An examination revealed that the body belonged to a White woman, aged 30 to 40, who died from drowning. The sheriff’s office reported that the remains had been in the river for approximately four months.

Body Discovered by Hunter in 1978 Identified as Missing Iowa Girl, Decades-Old Case Solved

The remains were only partially identified. The victim was found wearing a cat’s eye ring and had a tattoo that looked to say “Dee,” according to authorities, but attempts to identify the remains at the time were unsuccessful. The remains were buried behind a gravestone that said “Lincoln County Jane Doe,” according to authorities.

The case was reported in 2009 to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

It wasn’t until 2023 that officials reached a “pivotal breakthrough,” police added. The buried bones were unearthed, and anthropology instructors and students from Southeast Missouri State University discovered that the body was that of a teenager, not a middle-aged woman as previously thought. The university participants sent samples of the bones to Othram, a private DNA lab, for extraction. The business was able to apply forensic-grade genome sequencing, which can provide a DNA profile from a small sample.

The DNA sequencing enabled Othram’s genealogy team to “generate new leads” with a “comprehensive genealogical profile,” according to authorities. The Lincoln County Coroner’s Office contacted someone who claimed to have a close family member who matched Jane Doe’s description and had gone missing in 1977. A family reference sample was collected.

Testing established a match between the bones and the family member, leading authorities to identify “Lincoln County Jane Doe” as Helen Renee Groomes, a 15-year-old from Ottumwa, Iowa.

Kevin Groomes told local NBC News affiliate KSDK that he was “overwhelmed with joy” after his sister’s remains were identified. The exhumed remains have been burned.

He claimed that his sister’s tattoo said “Del” and informed KSDK that he had placed it there. It was the name of her partner at the time, he explained.

“We are profoundly grateful to the teams at SEMO, Othram, and the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office for their invaluable contributions, which proved to be instrumental in finally solving this decades-old mystery and bringing closure to a grieving family,” stated Rick Harrell, Sheriff of Lincoln County.

The sheriff’s office confirmed that an investigation into Groomes’ disappearance and death is ongoing.

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