Indianapolis forensic experts work to ID body in 1976 cold case

Crime Watch 8

Indianapolis forensic researchers are examining remains from the body in a Benton County, Indiana, cold case. Their work began in June 2019. (WLFI Photo)

FOWLER, Ind. (WLFI) — Indianapolis forensic researchers are examining remains from the body in a Benton County cold case.

On Oct. 8, 1976, a Fowler farmer found the body in his field. It was lying in a cardboard box with a gunshot wound to the head.

The Benton County coroner determined the body belonged to a woman from 60-65 years old who was about 5-feet-2 and 140 pounds. She had a radical right-side mastectomy, which investigators used as a lead.

“They thought it might assist in the identification of her and, throughout the years, they’ve had no luck and worked extremely hard to try to identify her,” said Benton County Coroner Matt Rosenbarger.

He has been the county coroner for 14 years. A recent email sparked a push to reopen the case. “I recalled reading the case when I was a deputy sheriff here at Benton County some years ago, and it always intrigued me to try to identify her.”

“This year, I got an email from a company that works with law enforcement and medical examiners, and coroners throughout the United States called NamUs, and they were inquiring about our Jane Doe 1976 case to see if we’d ever identified her.”

Rosenbarger teamed up with forensic pathologist Dr. Krista Latham and her students at Indianapolis Human Identification Center and Indianapolis forensic pathologist Dr. Darin Wolfe to dig up the woman’s remains at Sacred Heart Cemetery. The former county coroner buried her there about a week after she was found, and she’s remained there up until Jun. 28 when the researchers began work at the cemetery.

She was buried in a body bag inside a casket. The only remains they found were the body bag and her bones. The casket had decomposed.

Rosenbarger said he knows the power of closure for families when it comes to sudden death.

“This can give some family that has always wondered what happened to her, what happened to their mom, their grandmother, their sister, their aunt, we’re really just hoping to give them some closure and that would bring a lot of satisfaction to all the people that worked on this so hard.”

Rosenbarger also said he believes, with the advancements in technology, they can identify her.

“As forensic science has elaborated a little bit better, we’re hoping that we’ll get a better idea that not only a race and potential age range but, you know, the areas of the country where she might have been,” Rosenbarger said.

Rosenbarger said with the DNA tests could run from $5,000-$7,000.

The community can help fund the DNA testing by donating to the Benton County Auditor Jane Doe Fund. The office is at 706 E. Fifth St., Suite 21, Fowler, IN 47944.

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