In the early morning hours of May 20, 1996, several residents living near Cortland Street in Highland Park, Michigan awoke to the sound of a shotg*un blast. None of them heard any yelling or other commotion, so no one thought to call the police. It would be hours before they would discover that they had heard the shot that ki*lled a young girl. Her body was found in the alley behind 387 Cortland Street, shot through the throat. At this point, someone finally summoned the police.
Responding officers were met with a grisly and bloody scene; it was clear that the victim had died almost instantaneously. She had no identification on her, and they estimated her age to be between 15 and 25 years old based on her features. She was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed close to 200 pounds. She was dressed like a child, however, and detectives wondered if perhaps she was developmentally delayed. She was wearing a t-shirt covered with yellow smiley faces and red lip prints, and she had a large white bow in her hair. She was also wearing a teddy bear watch that looked like something a child would wear.
Paramedics realized immediately that there was nothing that could be done for the victim, and transported her body to the morgue to await autopsy. Police needed to notify her next-of-kin, but this meant identifying her first. Since she seemed so young, they assumed that she had most likely been reported missing already, and several investigators began to comb through current missing person cases. Others were sent to canvass the area in search of potential witnesses.
An autopsy confirmed that the cause of d*eath had been a single gu*nshot wound to the throat; the ki*ller had fired at point-blank range. With the exception of the shotg*un blast that had k*illed her, there were no signs of abuse on her body and she appeared to be well cared for. Her fingernails were long and painted with purple nail polish; her toenails were neatly groomed and painted pink. She had a few dental fillings, so she had seen a dentist at some point in her life, but several of her teeth showed signs of decay.
Toxicology tests showed that the victim had not been a drug user, though the coroner did determine that she had been a cigarette smoker. She also had pelvic inflammatory disease, which was usually caused by sexually transmitted bacteria. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and it’s possible the victim herself was unaware she had the disease.
Detectives were unable to find any missing person reports that matched their victim; calls to some of the surrounding jurisdictions also failed to yield a possible identity. Although they found several people who admitted hearing a gu*nshot hours before the young woman’s body was discovered, none of them were able to provide any other details.
With no idea who the victim was and no clues pointing to who had k*illed her, investigators reached out to the public for help. A composite sketch of the victim was created, and flyers with this sketch and a detailed description of the victim were distributed throughout the county. They were certain that someone from her family would recognize her and come forward, but as weeks went by without any potential leads, they were forced to consider that their victim hadn’t been local to the area.
Detectives continued to canvass the neighborhood where the victim had been found, but they were never able to locate anyone who had seen anything out of the ordinary on the night that the young woman was mu*rdered. Since several people had heard the sound of a shotg*un, investigators felt certain that their victim had been k*illed in the same spot where she had been found. The combed through numerous abandoned houses in the area, but found nothing to suggest that the young woman had been held captive in one of them prior to her mu*rder.
The alley where the young woman’s body was discarded was located near the Lodge Freeway, which ran throughout Detroit and provided easy access to Interstate 75. Detectives believed it was possible that their victim had been traveling along I-75 with her ki*ller, and it was feasible that he got back on the interstate immediately after the mur*der. It was possible to travel from Michigan to Florida on 1–75; the k*iller could have been just about anywhere.
Nearly a year after the mur*der, the victim remained unidentified. Her body was buried in an unmarked grave in a Canton Township cemetery; in cemetery records, she was recorded only as “identified female number 17.” Investigators continued to circulate her information in the hopes that someone would recognize her, but no one ever called to claim her as their own.
One detective described the victim as being dressed like a 5-year-old, leading some to speculate that she might have had some kind of disability and perhaps had been placed in foster care. If so, her biological family might be completely unaware she had been ki*lled.
For nearly 20 years, the victim remained in her unmarked grave. In 2015, however, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offered to fund the cost of having her body exhumed for DNA testing. They hoped that this might finally lead to her identification. The exhumation took place in October 2015 and taken to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, where samples of her DNA were taken and submitted to a national database.
Unfortunately, the victim, now christened the Highland Park Jane Doe, remains unidentified. Police are determined to learn the name of this young woman and arrest the person responsible for her mu*rder, but they need the public’s help. Somewhere out there, someone is missing a daughter, a sister, a friend, or a classmate and have the information police need to finally give this young woman her name back.
The Highland Park Jane Doe was approximately 15 to 25 years old when she was mu*rdered on May 20, 1996 in Highland Park, Michigan. She had dark reddish-brown hair that was tightly curled, and she was wearing it in a ponytail with a large white bow. She had brown eyes and freckles, and at the time of her de*ath she was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed approximately 200 pounds. She was found wearing a white T-shirt covered in yellow smiley faces and red lip prints, a white skirt with black and white gym shorts worn under it, white socks, black tennis shoes that were size 8.5, and a watch shaped like a teddy bear. If you have any information about this Jane Doe or her ki*ller, please contact the Highland Park Police Department at 313–252–0050 or FBI ViCAP at 800–634–4097.