TUCSON, Ariz. (SCRIPPS) — It’s a mystery that started in the City of Apache Junction with a discovery in the hot Arizona sun that became a 28-year-old case that’s gone cold.
On August 6th 1992 at around 9:45 am, a man was walking his dog at the northwest corner of Baseline Avenue and Idaho Road in Apache Junction. Minutes into his walk he found the body of a young woman in the desert near a dirt road 90 minutes outside of Tucson.
Corporal Marshall Harshman with Apache Junction Police says the area known for transient activity. Investigators had no clue about the young woman’s identity so the unknown woman became known as Apache Junction Jane Doe. Her body had been in the desert anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks.
“The medical examiner report was unable to determine the cause of death. They were able to determine that she was between 16 and 18 years of age. We don’t know if she was murdered. We don’t know if she died of dehydration out in the desert. We don’t know if she had some other illness, we don’t know what led to her ultimate demise,” Harshman said.
The death of Apache Junction Jane Doe is a puzzle detectives have been determined to solve. That’s where the DNA Doe Project comes in. The 3-year-old non-profit digs deep into the DNA and genealogy profiles of the unknown.
Project researcher Cairenn Binder says while CODIS looks at 20 DNA markers, volunteers at the Doe Project examine hundreds of thousands of markers. Apache Junction Police raised $2,500 to cover the lab work.
“We’ll take 2 or 3 DNA matches that are all in common with Apache Junction Jane Doe and then we build out their family trees. That’s where we look for a most common family ancestor,” Binder said.
The team has solved 44 out of more than 100 cases so far, but need more people to opt into their DNA match database to solve more cases. They have also solved 2 out of 5 cases in Arizona.
“Apache Junction Jane Doe we believe that she’s part Hispanic and half mixed African-American. Her mixed-race has made it harder to solve and that’s a challenge for us. Some of our populations are underrepresented in our database it makes the case take a lot longer and makes it more difficult to solve,” Binder said.
Apache Junction Jane Doe was found wearing a t-shirt that says “Team Gear” and a pair of Levi shorts. She also had a phoenix transit token that was valid for one student fare, some change, a round piece of paper with a picture of Abraham Lincoln, and wore a gold ring on her left ring finger. She’s around 5’1 with brown hair and a gap in her teeth. Investigators were able to determine that Apache Junction Jane Doe might have roots in Pima County, Arizona, Virginia, California, Texas, and Mexico.
“We’ve had some tips that have come in over the years and our investigators follow up on those, so far everything has been a dead end,” Harshman said.
Now investigators are hoping that one last push can help them solve a case that left a community wanting answers about a young woman whose death is unexplained but never forgotten.
“I love being able to provide the answer to a problem that was unsolved and a puzzle that no one else was able to make light of. It’s satisfying in a lot of different ways,” Binder said.
“We are committed to identifying her for her sake for justice’s sake we need to know who she is so we can figure out what happened to her I think she deserves that,” Harshman said.
What exactly did the DNA Doe Project find out about Apache Junction Jane Doe with her DNA and genealogy? According to researchers, DNA was run through hundreds of thousands of DNA markers in their database. She was found in a desert area near Baseline Avenue and Idaho Road in a remote part of Apache Junction.
Experts were able to determine that Apache Junction Jane Doe is half Black and Hispanic, and she might have African-American connections to Virginia in Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties, Pima County Arizona, Southern California, Bexar County Texas, and New Mexico.
Her Mexican connections might be in Nuevo Leon, Sonora Sinaloa, Jalisco and Tamau-Lipas and the Baja Peninsula.
Researchers were also able to connect some possible surnames to Apache Junction Jane Doe including:
Chandler, Dixon, Graves, Lovelace, and Patrick in Virginia.
Alvarez, Aros, Chavez, Garcia, Garza, Guerra, Haro, Molina, Parra, Solis, Sokto and Villegas in Mexico and the southwestern U.S.
If you want to submit your DNA to find out if you are a relative you can upload your DNA profile to the GED match website and volunteers will do a comparison.
Another interesting note is that researchers were only able to match 19% of Apache Junction Jane Doe’s DNA matches in the other 81% have not opted- in meaning they don’t want to have their DNA compared to other areas of the database including jane or john doe comparisons.
She’s between 4 foot 11 and 5 foot 1 and her age is 16 to 18- years-old.
This story was originally published October 30, 2020, by Shawndrea Thomas of KGUN in Tucson, Arizona.