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Local

Grundy County Coroner remembers unidentified murder victim 43 years later

Coroner's office marks 43rd anniversary of victim's death

Forty-three years have passed since an unidentified woman was found shot to death in a field in rural Grundy County. Now, two years after Grundy County Coroner John W. Callahan reopened the case in an effort to finally identify the victim, the case remains active, but no identification has been made.

The woman's body was discovered on Oct. 2, 1976 by a farmer and his granddaughter in a field on west U.S. Route 6 in Erienna Township in Seneca, about 1.4 miles east of the LaSalle County Line.

The woman is referred to as "Jane Seneca Doe" in the case file.

The case was investigated by the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department and Grundy County Coroner’s Office. At the time, it was determined that the female, estimated to be between the ages of 15 and 27, had been shot elsewhere and placed in this field. The victim had no identification.

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.

The case remained cold for more than 40 years. In late 2017, Coroner Callahan reopened the case, hoping to use modern-day forensic science techniques and technology to finally give the victim her name back.

Investigators combed through old case files, entered the female into numerous unidentified persons databases and released an artist-rendered-image to the public, with the hopes of receiving new information pertaining to the case.

On Dec. 18, 2018, the Grundy County Coroner’s Office exhumed the remains of the female to utilize the advancements in DNA. A Forensic Odontologist also examined the remains to determine the victim's age.

In January of 2019, the remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center For Human Identification in Fort Worth, Texas, using a grant from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and Department of Justice.

By late April of this year, the lab developed a full female DNA profile and entered it into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS,) where the national database continues to search for a potential match to any missing persons nationwide.

In June, Deputy Chief Coroner Brandon Johnson announced a partnership with the DNA Doe Project, which is an all-volunteer organization, which uses genealogical DNA to identify the unidentified. The DNA Doe Project remains hard at work in attempting to bring forward this female’s identity.

On Monday, the eve of the 43rd anniversary of discovery of the unidentified victim, Coroner Callahan, Chief Deputy Coroner Hintze-Symoniak and Deputy Chief Coroner Johnson placed flowers and an artist-rendered-image of how the female may have appeared in life near the site of her discovery.

“This victim was someone’s daughter, loved one or friend,” Johnson said. “We remembered and we will continue to remember this victim until she finally gets her name back.”

The case remains active. In February, the case was featured on "The Vanished" podcast. A Facebook page devoted to helping identify the woman, @grundycountycoldcase, posts updates on the case and other cold cases that have been solved.

The victim was between 15 and 27 years of age, with black afro-type-hair, brown eyes, weighing approximately 150 pounds and standing 5-feet-7-inches tall, and was found wearing a red, white and black cardigan-style knit sweater.

Anyone who recognizes her image or lost contact with a friend, loved one or familiar face around Oct. 2, 1976, is urged to contact Deputy Chief Coroner Brandon Johnson at 815-941-3359 or email: bjohnson@grundyco.org.

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