the indian gateway of forensic medicine

55 year old murder – solved

Much is made of the traditional techniques used in forensic science, and rightfully so. However, sometimes the power of the internet and what the general public is doing with it cannot be underestimated in solving crime.A 55-year-old murder case from Boulder, Colorado, has finally been solved using a combination of media (TV’s “America’s Most Wanted”), exhumation, DNA extraction, forensic anthropology, forensic artistry and someone watching case progress over the internet (Victim of 1954 Homicide Case, “Boulder Jane Doe,” Identified).The battered body of a young woman was found on a river bank near Boulder on 8 April 1954 but she was never identified and she was later buried in a simple grave. Eventually, after prompting by a local historian, Silvia Pettem, the case was re-investigated, funds were raised, the body was exhumed in 2004 and a DNA profile was obtained. An artist’s impression was created and shown in the media, including on “America’s Most Wanted”. Silvia Pettem kept the case alive with a website ( a long time, a woman came forward to suggest that the deceased could be her long-disappeared aunt. The woman who came forward had been following the case on the internet and eventually decided it was worth a punt to suggest her aunt’s name. A DNA profile was obtained from another aunt and it came up with a match for the deceased. Everyone thinks “it couldn’t happen to me and mine”. In this case, a woman who was watching the case over the internet thought “maybe it could be me and mine”.Refrence:

1. Accessed on May 20, 2011 

2.For full details about the case log on to or



















Dr. Robert H. Goldberg, J.D., MD, VSM



Fall 2004, Vidocq Journal, Boulder Colorado's Jane Doe: Part II, by C. Donald Weinberg

Lt. Phil West of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and Dr. Robert Goldberg, MD, VSM, contributed to the writing of this story.

Summary of Part I: In April 1954, two University of Colorado students on a mountain hike stumbled across the body of a young woman, an apparent homicide victim, hastily disposed of in a deep gully. The case was not solved. At the time, then Coroner George Howe arrived at the conclusion, “Death occurred from four to ten days [prior to the finding of the body]... Death resulted from shock caused by severe beating by person or persons unknown, with felonious intent.” The case was reopened in 2004 with the assistance of VSMs, Drs. Walter Birkby, Richard Froede, and Robert Goldberg who supervised the exhumation of the body. The affects of fifty years of spring floods and an often overflowing irrigation ditch that was only thirty feet away from the burial site became evident early on. The removal of the extremely fragile, waterlogged, largely skeletal remains depended upon the effective use of the tools and techniques of archeological removal.

After a three-month drying period, in late August, Jane Doe’s bones, teeth, and hair were sealed in a highly protected transportation environment and shipped to Dr. Walter Birkby’s Human Identification Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona.

Skull Reconstruction and Skeletal Preservation

The remains were carefully removed from the shipping container. According to Dr. Robert Goldberg, VSM, “The bones were exceptionally brittle. A casual touch could turn the entire skull or any other bone to dust.” Dr. Birkby carefully took all of the small cranial bone fragments and shards of the bones extracted from the grave, meticulously photographed them from multiple angles, and catalogued them prior to reconstruction. Then he painstakingly began the process of reconstructing Jane Doe’s skull. In the end, the reconstruction proved successful, but very difficult.

At the same time the skull was being reconstructed, the long bones except for one to be used to obtain nuclear DNA, were being stabilized in a polymer substance, an organic compound including a chemical stabilizer and a penetrating agent that carries the plastic of the matrix of the bone. Once the stabilization of the bones had been completed, Dr. Birkby began an x-ray scan and morphological assessment of the bones, searching for indications of features – breaks, fractures, disease, or any other distinctive characteristics that might be useful for future analysis. All features were carefully noted and catalogued. All findings were compared to those in the original autopsy.

The comparison confirmed that the findings of skull fractures and broken bones were consistent with the original coroner’s report, Dr. Birkby, however, did find a fracture to the right patella, not included in the original coroner’s report, indicating a strong likelihood that Jane Doe had been struck by a motor vehicle.

The break indicates that she had been struck on the weight-bearing leg. Silvia Pettem, the person most responsible for the reopening of the case, did extensive research into the possibility that the injuries were the result of an impact with an automobile. After locating an automobile museum, she took height measurements of 1950s-era automobile bumpers. She found the measurements of a typical automobile bumper of the period was at the approximate knee level of Jane Doe.

There were also serious injuries to the left side of the body. These injuries were consistent with her body being thrown into the ditch [actually, down an embankment], where she was later found, after being hit. The absence of clothing and other evident crime-scene evidence supports the theory that she had been struck elsewhere, after which her body was taken to this location and disposed of.

During his last visit, Dr. Goldberg participated in a simulation of the body disposal. Using a 110-pound dummy, the approximate weight of Jane Doe, the dummy was tossed into the irrigation ditch [correction: Boulder Creek]. The way the body fell was recorded. The object was to determine whether the left-side injuries could have occurred from the method of disposal, rather than as a result of the automobile accident. The results of the experiment, abrasion patterns, and landing position indicated that the method of disposal was a likely cause.

A Possible Identification

In an attempt to widen their catchment area, the Sheriff’s Office, under lead investigator Det. Steve Ainsworth, began a methodical search of missing person websites. Their most substantive lead pointed them towards Toronto, in particular, the case of Marion McDowell, missing since 1953 from the Toronto area. It remains Toronto’s most notorious abduction, McDowell was seventeen when abducted, had highly styled strawberry-blonde hair, perfect teeth and perfect nails. These are consistent with what is known about Jane Doe. Extensive hair styling with bobby pins was noted in the original Jane Doe autopsy. Jane Doe had strawberry-blonde hair [note: The FBI later determined that it was “light brown.”] and perfect teeth.

Ms. McDowell fit Jane Doe’s general morphological description – height and weight. Moreover, Jane Doe, according to the original autopsy, had food in her stomach, but not in the intestinal tract. This can be interpreted as indicating a non-regular eating pattern, consistent with an abductee, or one who has been held prisoner. According to Dr. Goldberg, “Granted, that’s a stretch, but after fifty years, a stretch is all we have.”

The physical and age parameters seem a possible fit. And the circumstances of the McDowell abduction, while giving no indication that the crime involved a move both south and west, do not preclude the possibility that McDowell might be Jane Doe.

The Abduction

The circumstances of the McDowell abduction as described below are quoted from the internet site DOENETWORK:

Date of birth: November of 1936

Age at time of disappearance: 17 years old

Height and weight at time of disappearance: 5’3,” 130 pounds

Distinguishing characteristics: Caucasian. Blonde hair, blue eyes. McDowell has a round face, and her teeth are in good condition.

Circumstances: On Sunday, December 6, 1953, Jimmy Wilson, 19, picked up his date, Marion McDowell, 17, from her home about 7 in the evening. They drove Jimmy’s 1942 five-passenger Plymouth coupe to a few miles within Scarborough.

They pulled off onto a quiet road. About 8 o’clock they were confronted by a person who opened the passenger side door and barked, “This is a stick-up.” Jimmy was told to hand over his wallet. The bandit took $10 before ordering Jimmy to turn around. Jimmy was then hit over the back of the head twice with the butt-end of a handgun which later required 17 stitches to close.

Jimmy woke in and out of consciousness. One image was being in the back of the coupe with Marion’s body sprawled across him. The next image was being parked in a lot three-car-lengths behind another car. Jimmy saw someone close the trunk of the other car before getting in the driver’s side and drive off.

When the other vehicle drove out of the lot, Jimmy crawled into the driver’s seat and drove to the Scarborough Police and made his report.

The yard was a fenced-in vacant lot located a short distance from where Jimmy and Marion were parked earlier. Found in the lot was Jimmy’s discarded wallet and bar of old-fashioned “Sunlight” brand laundry soap. The bar was wrapped in its outer container but its inner wrapping had been removed. The lot’s gate had its locks broken, and its chain cut. The chain and locks had been put in place only hours earlier.

Jimmy Wilson’s 1942 Plymouth contained Marion’s head scarf. Marion’s scarf, it was believed, had been worn folded. The scarf contained cuts in its fabric, as though she might have sustained a heavy head blow. Two different types of blood were found in the car, A-type and O-type.

Jimmy Wilson was considered a suspect but was cleared due to his statement and after passing a lie detector test in Buffalo, New York.

The suspect in this crime was described as about 5’ 8” with a narrow face. He wore a dark balaklava mask and brandished what appeared to be a Walther .38 or a Luger.

Marion, when last seen, was wearing a white blouse with black or blue trim, black-wool-pleated skirt, black ballerina shoes, silver chain with a heart worn on her wrist, and a ring on her left hand initialed “MM.”

Marion was a bit of a tomboy, boisterous and outgoing. Her hobbies included tennis, swimming, roller-skating, pinball, and music. Marion had previously worked at a department store and a bank. She was once an invoice typist for a printing firm.

The Anthropology Lab at Michigan State University

Dr. Todd Fenton of Michigan State University has agreed to assist in the process of determining whether Doe and McDowell are a match. On December 10, the skull, after being carefully wrapped, and the non-stabilized long bone were shipped to Dr. Fenton. Dr. Fenton’s lab specializes in identification of ancient remains and has extensive forensic capability.

He and his assistants are pursuing the matter on two fronts: (1) He is conducting tests of the nuclear DNA for purposes of comparison. (2) They are also applying photographic superimposition techniques.

Initially, photographic work was to be done on Jane Doe’s skull photographs. This latter would have involved placing the facial elements of the living face on the photograph of the skull using highly accurate photometric algorithms.

The process, however, proved less accurate than previously thought, so Dr. Froede, Dr. Birkby, Dr. Goldberg, and Lt. West agreed that  the skull, if wrapped sufficiently carefully to prevent damage, would be shipped directly to Dr. Fenton’s lab to being the real-time process of superimposition with the McDowell photos. Thus far, Dr. Fenton and his graduate students have spent two weeks comparing the photos of the skull and the ante-mortem photos of Marion McDowell in preparation.

The Case Moves to Canada

Sometimes, tragedy has a long reach and forms a basis for shaping lives in its aftermath. It is no coincidence that, deeply affected by the abduction of his sister, Ms. McDowell’s younger brother (and only surviving member of the nuclear family) became a police officer and homicide detective in the jurisdiction from which Ms. McDowell disappeared.

His purpose was to allow a family member to be involved in and give impetus to the continuing search for his sister. Upon notification of the possible Doe/McDowell match, Det. McDowell gave blood, hair, and cheek cells for DNA comparison, hoping for a match leading to his sister’s return.

Hair samples were sent to the Ontario coroner’s office, under the care of Coroner Barry McLellan, M.D., for a mitochondrial DNA match. Det. Ray Zarb of the Toronto Police is the officer in charge of the Canadian part of the investigation and is keeping the team informed.

Additionally, books or memorabilia from the McDowells have been requested. The FBI had one rolled-thumb print on file from Jane Doe. That fingerprint has not yet been located. [Note: The FBI only attempted to get a fingerprint, but too much of her skin had been eaten away. Then, years later, the FBI purged its file of all Jane Doe evidence.] Pending the receipt of the fingerprint, these items will be “super-glued” to raise fingerprints left by Ms. McDowell in search of a possible match with that of Jane Doe.

Funding the Investigation

True to its roots in the Western tradition of independent action, the search for Jane Doe’s identity has been partly funded by public subscription and donation of services. Housing for the Vidocq exhumation team, VSM’s Dr. Froede, Dr. Birkby, and Dr. Goldberg, was provided by a local hotel. The local funeral home provided services for the removal and storage of the remains of Jane Doe after exhumation. The Boulder History Museum is the clearing house for donations to the Jane Doe Fund. According to the Museum’s website, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle stated that a minimum of $6,500 was needed, of which $3,500 had been collected by midsummer. 

The museum explains the need for the money: “Once Jane Doe’s DNA has been sampled, we hope to identify her by locating people who believe that they may be related. The funds being collected by the Boulder History Museum will help pay for the comparable DNA analyses for these potential relatives.”

The museum offers further details about the way interested individuals can participate through the “Jane Doe” homicide case website. [Note: This used to be, but it has since been replaced by]

The site posts progress reports and keeps an archive of articles from the area newspapers – the Daily Camera (Boulder) and the Rocky Mountain News. A message board allows individuals who have something to contribute by way of evidence or theory, a means of communication with each other. And, of course, the site allows its readers to made direct donations to the Jane Doe Fund.

For full details about the case log on to or



Mystery solved: Boulder sheriff IDs 'Jane Doe' as Dorothy Gay Howard

Identity gives important link in piecing together 1954 homicide

By Brittany Anas, Camera Staff Writer

Read more:

Boulder County's famed “Jane Doe” — the homicide victim whose identity has been a mystery for more than five decades — was identified today by the sheriff as a woman who went missing from Arizona. Boulder County's famed "Jane Doe" -- the homicide victim whose identity has been a mystery for more than five decades -- was identified Wednesday by the sheriff as a woman who went missing from Arizona. Sheriff Joe Pelle announced that the woman's identity has been confirmed as Dorothy Gay Howard, who was reported missing from Phoenix, Ariz., in March 1954. She was 18 at the time of her disappearance. The Sheriff's Office received lab results that showed a match between Howard's DNA and samples provided by a long-lost sister, confirming the family's suspicion that their relative, known as "Dot," was Boulder's "Jane Doe." Detectives think the identification will help them finish piecing together the murder case. Howard's naked and battered body was discovered along the banks of Boulder Creek -- near Boulder Falls, eight miles west of Boulder -- on April 8, 1954. Investigators, along with local historian and Camera columnist Silvia Pettem, have, for years, doggedly tried to identify the woman -- exhuming her body from her grave and publicizing an artist's re-creation of "Jane Doe's" face. Her reconstructed skull provided a DNA profile. The case was featured in an episode of "America's Most Wanted." Meanwhile, Howard's great-niece had been following Pettem's Web site,, but put her suspicions aside that "Jane Doe" could be her great-aunt because investigators had initially believed the woman was Katharine Farrand This is the facial reconstruction of "Jane Doe," a woman found murdered in Boulder Canyon in April 1954, that was created by Frank Bender, a forensic artist from Philadelphia. Members of the Vidocq Society, based in Philadelphia, teamed up with the Boulder County Sheriffs Department to reconstruct the skull of the woman to create the likeness. Boulder County authorities on Wednesday confirmed they had identified Jane Doe as Dorothy Gay Howard. ( JOSHUA LAWTON )Dyer. Last month, Dyer was discovered alive, living in an assisted living center in Australia. That discovery prompted Howard's great-niece to come forward with information about Howard and her disappearance. The younger sister of Howard provided a DNA sample that was then compared against "Jane Doe's" profile, establishing a match. "I'm looking forward to learning more about her," Pettem said. "After all of these years, I feel like I know her. But to the family, I'm a stranger." Pettem is the author of the book "Someone's Daughter: In Search of Justice for Jane Doe," which chronicles her journey to identify the young woman. Sheriff Pelle commended Pettem's skills as a researcher and her persistence in pushing the investigation forward, while complimenting Detective Steve Ainsworth, who has pursued and documented every lead in the case. Together, they built a compelling circumstantial case for naming serial killer Harvey Glatman -- who was executed in California in 1959 for the murder of three other women -- as Howard's murderer. "With her identification, a major piece of the puzzle has been added," Ainsworth said in a news release. "I'm confident now that we will be able to find the missing links that will tie this all together." The Sheriff's Office is not releasing information about Howard's family because they've requested privacy. Pettem said that when she started on the quest to discover the identity of "Jane Doe," her goal was to be able to return the remains to her family and put her name on the gravestone. Howard's surviving family members have expressed their preference that she remain buried in Boulder's Columbia Cemetery. Pettem said she feels sadness for Howard's tragic death but relief that her family has closure. Pettem, with Pelle's cooperation, has announced a fund drive to purchase a new headstone for Howard. Donations can be made to the "Jane Doe Fund," c/o the Boulder History Museum, 1206 Euclid Ave., Boulder, CO 80302.


1. accessed on May 20, 2011


2. For full details about the case log on to or



Special Thanks to DR ROBERT H. GOLDBERG, J.D., M.D. and Silvia Pettem  for providing us valuable information and solving this crime