Left for Dead

The mystery of Mountain Jane Doe

Investigators dig up an unidentified stabbing victim, 45 years after she was buried, in an attempt to give her back her name. This Reveal story is one of thousands from the crisis of America’s unidentified dead. Credit: Michael I Schiller/Reveal

UPDATE, Jan. 13, 2018. Last year we shined a light on the nearly five decade-old case of an unidentified homicide victim who became known as Mountain Jane Doe. Her story is one of more than 11,000 in a national database of unidentified dead. There are no national laws requiring coroners or law enforcement to use the database, and as a result, cases fall through the cracks and family members are left in the dark about their loved ones. Today, we bring you the latest in Mountain Jane Doe’s case.

In rural Kentucky, a cold case is reopened after 45 years, and investigators dig up the body of an unidentified homicide victim in an attempt to give her back her name. The exhumation leads to a series of unexpected revelations about who she was and why she might have been killed.

Her case speaks to the complexity – and importance – of opening cold cases and using DNA science to try to solve them. There currently are more than 10,000 unidentified men and women in the U.S.

In the summer of 1969, a young woman was found dead off a remote mountain trail in Harlan, Kentucky. She’d been stabbed multiple times. Her identity was a mystery, so locals referred to her as Mountain Jane Doe. Decades later, a woman from the area takes up the cause of identifying the slain woman, and her quest for answers leads investigators to a hillside grave and a DNA lab, bringing some long-awaited answers.

But as one mystery is solved, another remains unanswered: Who killed her? Reveal producer Michael I Schiller introduces us to a daughter who never knew her mom and who’s now determined to find the person who killed her, even if it means confronting some dark family secrets.

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Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

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