DNA Identifies Victim In Decades-Old 'Belle In The Well' Mystery

Authorities say the woman found strangled in 1981 was West Virginia native Louise Peterson Flesher.

July 31, 2019

Photo by: Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher yearbook photo [Lawrence County Coroner's Office]; forensic sculpture [Ohio Attorney General's Office]

Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher yearbook photo [Lawrence County Coroner's Office]; forensic sculpture [Ohio Attorney General's Office]

By: Mike McPadden

IRONTON, OH — After 38 years of mystery surrounding the “Belle in the Well” — an unknown female victim found strangled in Lawrence County, Ohio — authorities announced that DNA tests have identified the Jane Doe as being a West Virginia native named Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher.

The body was reportedly first discovered at the bottom of a well on April 21, 1981. Authorities said the approximately five foot two, 100-pound victim was clad in several sweaters, and had rubber bands on her wrists and a cinderblock tied around her neck. Her time of death was approximated as being sometime in November 1979.

Since that initial report, the case has reportedly exerted a macabre grip on the surrounding area.

At a press conference to announce the new identification, Lawrence County Coroner Dr. Ben Mack said, “I didn’t grow up here in the Tri-State and I knew about this case before I moved here, as this urban legend of the ‘Belle in the Well.'”

In 2017, the Lawrence County Coroner’s Office reportedly teamed with the DNA Doe Project in hope of finally matching a name and a life to this tragic death and ongoing mystery.

After reportedly using both cutting-edge DNA technology and old-fashioned detective work, the coroner’s office announced it had finally identified the “Belle in the Well” as Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, a West Virginia native born in 1915.

According to the findings, Flesher went to high school in Wyoming, where she also met her husband, who has been named as Donald Benjamin Flesher. The couple reportedly had three daughters, two of whom are still alive. By 1944, the report said, Flesher moved back to West Virginia and lived in Parkersburg.

In pursuit of this information, investigators said they uploaded DNA from Flesher’s body to a site called GEDmatch. From there, using genealogy, researchers said they tracked down Flesher’s youngest daughter, and that contact with her enabled them to make the final identification.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist with the DNA Doe Project, told WSAZ-TV, "When you finally make an identification … it becomes real. It's not theoretical anymore. It's not a person in a well. It's not just a Jane Doe, it's a real person with mother, father, children, went to high school, had jobs.”

At this point, no suspects have been named, but anyone with information regarding the murder of Louise Peterson Flesher is asked to contact the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office at LawCoSO.com.