A MURDER RUNS THROUGH IT
Jane Doe, Albuquerque, New Mexico
It’s easy to take your name for granted, but your name is an intrinsic part of your identity.
Your name is how you know yourself and how you are known by others. Should you suffer the misfortune of being separated from your name, you can be lost forever.
One sleepless night
I don’t recall why I couldn’t fall asleep, I only know that I couldn’t.
I tried every trick I could think of, but my efforts went nowhere.
So I stopped trying to do what I couldn’t— sleep — in favor of doing something that I could— look for a new true crime to investigate. It was while I was searching the internet for cold cases that I came across the home page of the New Mexico Survivors of Homicide (NMSOH) website.
NMSOH website serves as a place where people who have lost a loved one to murder can connect with each other; it also has a comprehensive list of unsolved murders in New Mexico.
I navigated my way from the Home Page to one titled “Unsolved,” and I was reading through those cases when I came across this banner:
“Jane Doe — January 1994,” as she is described in the alphabetical listing, is a woman who got separated from her name. She was murdered and left on the side of road.
Monday, January 21, 1994, was a cold, clear morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The temperature was below freezing, there was a breeze that was 5–8 mph, and the humidity was hovering at 60%.
At 8:30 that morning when members of a crew from Central New Mexico Prison were picking up litter along the north side of Interstate 40, one of them made a discovery more chilling than the weather: human bones.
Crime scene investigators were brought in to collect what remained of what had once been a living and breathing human being along with other evidence that had been scattered in the vicinity. In a matter of hours, the bones were transformed from debris on the side of the road to ME/C Case Number 1994–01232.
It would later be determined that the bones discovered on the side of the road belonged to a woman, but there was nothing with her remains that held any clues as to her identity, so she became “Jane Doe.”
The names John and Jane Doe were originally used to protect the identity of plaintiffs in a lawsuit. Over time, however, the names have garnered new uses, including that of serving as a placeholder for a person whose body has been found, but whose identity is not known.
As for the NMSOH webpage, the details were sparse.
In addition to the information that skeletal remains had been found by a highway work crew on the north side of Interstate 40, half a mile west of mile marker 152, there was a request for anyone who might know anything to contact Rich Lewis of the Albuquerque Police Department.
The entry ended with this:
Any information about this murder, as insignificant as it seems, may be important!
When I finished reading I was left wondering: Whatever happened to the Jane Doe discovered by the side of the road on a cold January morning in 1994?
The search begins
At this point, I was no closer to falling asleep than I had been, but now I didn’t care. I had a mission.
In my quest for more information, I reasoned that since the body and been found on January 21, any reporting would probably have appeared the next day. So I went to Newspapers.com to look for a digital copy of the January 22, 1994, Albuquerque Journal.
I found the edition I was looking for and poured through the paper online, trying to read both efficiently and quickly.
As my eyes zoomed over the text, I worried that I would read right past it, but then my eyes landed on an article in the Metropolitan section of the newspaper titled “Highway Crew Finds Human Bones.” From that story I gleaned a few more facts than had been available at NMSOH.
- It had been a highway clean-up crew of prisoners who had made the discovery at about 8:30 am on January 21, 1994
- The bones had been found scattered near the 98th St. and I-40 interchange on the western edge of Albuquerque
- The Office of the Medical Investigator would be working with the University of New Mexico’s anthropology team to examine the bones
- It could not be confirmed that the bones were the remains of a woman
- The clean-up crew was believed to have been from Central New Mexico prison in Los Lunas, approximately 24 miles south of where the bones were found
- It was too early to know if the bones were related to any open missings persons cases
The information detailed in the article answered a few of my questions, but it raised more than it answered, and then there was this logistical problem: Since the remains were not attached to a name, how could I search the newspaper for any follow up reporting on the case?
The search continues
We are, for the most part, identified by our names. Even social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, TikTok, and Snapchat require us to either use our names or created handles for ourselves that serve as names.
When it came to the Jane Doe whose remains were found by the side of a freeway by a prison work crew, the closest thing I had to a name was the case number: 94–039470.
So using what I had, I searched using the case number.
It was sufficiently unique, and while I didn’t get a lot of hits, I did get a few.
The first was NMSOH, the site where I had originally learned of the case, but there were three others that provided a few more details
257UFNM — The Doe Network
Established in 1999 the Doe Network:
is a non-profit organization of volunteers who work with law enforcement to connect missing persons cases with John/Jane Doe cases. — Wikipedia
It is the kind of organization whose purpose is to help match up the Jane and John Does of the world with missing persons reports that might be a match.
At the Doe Network her case file is 257UFNM — Unidentified Female.
There are several drawings based on the skeleton and other information the forensic anthropologists were able to tease out from the bones that were left behind. In the series of drawing this particular Jane Doe is shown as she might have appeared in life, and she is shown with long, short, and medium length hair.
Her age was estimated at between 30 to 45 years old and her height was estimated at between 4'8" to 5'2". It appeared that she was white or Hispanic but her weight, hair color, and eye color were unknown. She had one distinguishing mark: a healing nasal bone fracture.
There is also an inventory of what was found with what was left of her person including:
- Upper dentures
- White “Trendsetter” pedal pushers
- A Puritan brand wool sweater with a graphic dog design on it
- A bra
- Size 7 Converse All Star shoes
- One ribbed calf-length sock
- Her death was estimated to have occurred 1–2 years before the discovery of what remained of her body
The healing nasal bone fracture and the upper denture hint at a life that had challenges before she was murdered and left on the side of the road.
Porchlight International for the Missing & Unidentified
Porchlight International is a combination discussion forum and information aggregator that brings together all of the information about the missing persons who are included in their database.
It is also a tremendous resource to use if you want to learn about what agencies are there to help as well as how to reach them, and it was at Porchlight International forum for NMF940121, the file associated with the January 1994 Jane Doe, that I found a link to NamUs.
NamUs is the short form for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and it is:
a national clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases throughout the United States. — Wikipedia
It turns out that every year in the United States over four thousand bodies are recovered but not identified, and after a year has passed, a thousand or so of those bodies remain unidentified.
And now, as we near the 30 year mark from her death and almost 26 years since her body was discovered, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Jane Doe from January 1994, still has no name.
As for the information about Jane Doe at NamUs, there are a few new-to-me details included in the account.
- The only reason a discovery was made at all was that one of the work crew noticed what he thought was a skull as they drove by. He reported what had seen, and that led to the recovery of the rest of the woman’s body
- Not all of Jane Doe’s limbs were recovered, but the size 7 Converse All Star shoe was on her foot at the time her remains were discovered.
One last try
There was no tidy end to the story of the woman I now thought of as “my Jane Doe,” but I thought that there must be at least one more follow up story about her in the Albuquerque Journal, and after reading through several days worth of papers after the original piece appeared, I did find another article.
It was brief, and there were a few details that had not been included in the original piece, including that the woman was small, had an upper denture, and had suffered an injury to her nose at some point prior to her death.
Anyone who knew a woman who matched the description was asked to call Albuquerque Police.
The Jane Doe found in the desert just off Interstate-40 remains unidentified to this day.
When I was in the fifth grade, I learned the importance asking questions, and was introduced to what are called “Five Ws and How” — Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. I have learned from my interest in true crime that in order to solve a crime the first question an investigator needs to answer is “Who is the victim,” because the answer to that question is the first step toward being able to answer “Who murdered the victim.”
As for the prisoner on the work detail whose observation brought the crime to light, he demonstrated that not only do you need to be observant, you also need to be willing to speak up.
The Doe Network
NMSOH (New Mexico Survivors of Homicide) Porchlight International for the Missing & Unidentified
Porchlight International for the Missing & Unidentified