Who Is 'Little Jane Doe'? A Headless Body, a Haunting Cold Case

February 28, 2018
By: Catherine Townsend

The shirt worn by St. Louis Jane Doe at the time of her murder, along with the cord that bound her [Wikipedia]; The bound hands of “Little Jane Doe” [The Unknown Storybook / YouTube (screenshot)]

The shirt worn by St. Louis Jane Doe at the time of her murder, along with the cord that bound her [Wikipedia]; The bound hands of “Little Jane Doe” [The Unknown Storybook / YouTube (screenshot)]

ST. LOUIS, MO — On February 28, 1983, the headless body of an African-American girl, who was estimated to be between 8 and 11 years old, was found in the basement of an abandoned house in St. Louis, Missouri.

The two men who discovered the body had been looking for a pipe to fix their broken van. Instead, they found a crime scene that looked like something out of a nightmare.

The young victim would later be nicknamed “The St. Louis Jane Doe,” “Hope,” and “Little Jane Doe.”

Investigators stated that they believed whomever is responsible sexually assaulted and killed her three to five days before dumping her decapitated body at 5635 Clemens Avenue. At first, police believed that the victim may have been a prostitute — but a closer inspection of the body revealed that she had not yet gone through puberty.

The little girl’s body was naked except for a yellow, long-sleeved V-neck sweater. She reportedly had two coats of red nail polish on her fingers. She was left on her stomach, with her hands bound behind her back with red and white nylon rope. She was well-nourished and showed no signs of abuse — someone had cared for her.

Her head had been severed cleanly by a large blade, police said — possibly a carving knife. Mold was growing out of the hole in her neck, indicating that the body had been in the basement for some time, according to the Riverfront Times. Chillingly, her head has never been found, but fingerprints, footprints, and DNA information have been collected.

Over the years, investigators have investigated thousands of leads, and compared the forensic evidence to many other missing girls. They have not yet found a match. The murder has become perhaps the most notorious cold case in the history of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and has haunted many of the detectives who worked the original case.

According to the Riverfront Times, the body went unclaimed on a slab in the city morgue for several months. In December 1983, the little girl was buried in a pauper’s grave in Washington Park Cemetery. Gravediggers reportedly served as her pallbearers. In 2013, authorities exhumed the body to gather more forensic information about the victim.

They discovered that her remains had been misplaced. Eventually, they found the body by pinpointing where a photograph of the casket had been taken on the day of the burial.

They performed tests on her bones, and discovered that she had spent a large portion of her life in the Midwestern and Northeastern states — or possibly West Virginia. She was estimated to weigh between 70 and 80 pounds. Testing also revealed that she had spina bifida, but it is not known if she exhibited symptoms.

Her killer has never been found. One suspect whose name emerged was serial killer and child molester Vernon Brown, who murdered a nine-year-old girl in a similar fashion — head severed with a long knife. But Brown was executed in 2005, and never confessed to murdering Little Jane Doe. Others believe that the crime was too sophisticated for Brown since he reportedly had below average intelligence.

The bloody yellow sweater has since been lost. Investigators were working with a psychic in Florida on the case, who wanted to touch the girl’s sweater. Police mailed it to her, but never received it back. The psychic said it must have been lost in the mail — one more thing missing, in the case of Little Jane Doe.

Anyone with information about Little Jane Doe can call the St. Louis Police Department at (314) 444-5822 or the St. Louis City Medical Examiner’s Office at (314) 622-4971.

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