Phoenix police seek help identifying victim in cold case murder

A Snapshot composite depicting what an unidentified murder victim may have looked like at 25 years old, with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 22. Known as Ahwatukee Jane Doe, or by medical examiner case number 83-1480, a woman believed to be a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe was killed in the Phoenix area in 1983. Investigators are seeking help finding relatives of the victim. Image provided.

The Phoenix Police Department is seeking the public’s help in solving a 35-year-old cold case murder, with the victim possibly a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

A “Jane Doe” was found murdered at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Aug. 15, 1983, near a canal access road in the area of 4300 E. Williams Rd., in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix.

“She was decomposing, so likely died within a couple days of her being found,” said Det. Stuart Somershoe, with the department’s Family Investigations Bureau, Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit.

The woman’s fingerprints were run through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but no record was found, he said.

“She is still unidentified, over three decades later,” Somershoe said.

With her true identity a mystery, the victim has been known only as medical examiner case No. 83-1480.

After fingerprinting, dental records, and DNA failed to identify the woman, Somershoe sought the services of Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based DNA technology company specializing in DNA phenotyping.

The process predicts physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.

Law enforcement agencies use the company’s Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service (Snapshot) to narrow suspect lists and generate leads in criminal investigations.

Somershoe said that the forensic genealogy technique has successfully resolved a number of high-profile cases lately, giving the example of the arrest of the “Golden State Killer.”

Captured in April 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo is a serial killer, rapist and burglar who had committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes and more than 120 burglaries in California from 1974-86.

Somershoe said, “Basically, the genealogists take the DNA profile of the Jane Doe and enter it into a database called GEDmatch, where people upload their DNA in the hope of finding relatives and ancestors.”

The forensic genealogy testing showed the victim likely has ties to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

When the Ahwatukee Jane Doe profile was uploaded, it matched a number of people, all of whom were tribal members.

Somershoe described “a bit of guesswork” in determining relationships, but the family members identified were distant relatives, likely third to fourth cousins.

After contacting them, Somershoe found that none were aware of any missing relatives, but “given how removed the family relationship is, this isn’t unexpected.”

However, the fact that all were tribal members leads Somershoe to believe that Ahwatukee Jane Doe is also a tribal member, he said.

What Somershoe does know about the Ahwatukee Jane Doe is that she was a Native American female, who would have been 25 to 30 years old in 1983, likely born between 1950 and 1965.

She was five foot, five inches tall, and weighed 142 pounds, had shoulder-length black hair with loose curls, and had brown eyes.

The victim had a metal retainer on the tongue side of her lower teeth.

“During her life, she had orthodontic dental work which was characterized as excellent,” Somershoe said.

After putting the new-found information on social media, Somershoe received one “very promising” lead, however DNA testing showed that the Ahwatukee Jane Doe was not the missing person.

“So, the search continues to identify her,” Somershoe said. “I’m hoping with more media coverage, I might reach someone who has a long-lost relative.”

Somershoe provided the Silver Belt with composite drawings of the Ahwatukee Jane Doe, but cautioned, “Keep in mind these are just guesses of what she may have looked like.”

Using DNA evidence from the investigation, Snapshot produced a trait prediction for her ancestry, eye and hair color, skin color, freckling and face shape.

Combining these attributes, Snapshot produced a composite, depicting what she may have looked like at age 25 and with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 22. Default values were used, as age and BMI cannot be determined from DNA.

Somershoe and the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit may be contacted by phone at 602-261-8065 or after hours at 602-262-6141, or via e-mail at [email protected]

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