Modern technology extracts evidence from hair, tooth
By Timothy Gillis
BLAIRSTOWN, N.J. –
The Case of Princess Doe, a teenage murder victim unidentified for more than thirty years, is closer than ever to being solved. One of the most notorious unsolved crimes in New Jersey’s history has baffled police since her bludgeoned body was found in Cedar Ridge Cemetery on July 15, 1982.
Now new evidence has been discovered using isotope analysis of hair and a tooth, and these findings are hitting the airwaves and print media in the hopes of providing a spark to the cold case. The story has been on CNN and will feature on “America’s Most Wanted” tonight at 9 p.m. (on the Lifetime channel).
Isotope analysis of her hair by Isoforensics Lab in Salt Lake City indicate that she is either from the midwest or northeast. (Study of the isotopes in hair will reveal where she was in the last year of her life.) The evidence suggests she was a transient, police officials say, moving from one geographic region to another until she ended up in New Jersey. Testing on a tooth by the University of South Florida revealed just this week that there’s a 40 percent chance she’s from Arizona, a 40 percent chance she’s from the northeast, and a 20 percent chance she’s from elsewhere in the United States. (Study of a tooth reveals more than hair. It indicates where a person was brought up, as enamel forms and makes the record permanent.)
“At first glance, it seems like we have a lot of area to deal with,” said Det. Justin Boyce of the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office. “But it allows us to exclude a lot. We can confirm that she was born in the U.S. Now we want to saturate these areas with information, in the hope that her story will ring a bell, and someone will come forward with information.”
Over the years, there have been many grieving parents who thought Princess Doe might be their missing daughter, Boyce said. But in each case, the DNA didn’t match and disproved their hopes.
For police, these isotope analysis discoveries are significant because they give them new leads on a case that has baffled them for three decades and left her grave marked Princess Doe, as she was dubbed by locals.
Boyce took over the case from Det. Stephen Speirs, who had worked on it since 1999. Although Speirs is retired, he is still searching for clues.
“I’ve had a great relationship with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” Speirs said. “They have a forensic unit there. I had a meeting in February with them about a project called ALERT, or Area Law Enforcement Response Team. They’d taken a bunch of retired law enforcement personnel. They hire them on and send them out to help police agencies like ours. They wanted to use Princess Doe as a test case for project ALERT.”
The group is made up of a retired US marshal, forensic scientists, and other specialists. “They prepared a precise report on what we can do. With a high resolution CAT scan, using the skull and scanned at the Smithsonian Institute, they created an image that’s so lifelike it’s chilling – a 3D model,” Speirs said. “The Center did an image in 2005, but it was 2-D. This image is 3-D and looks molded out of clay. We’ve got that image out there in hopes that someone will recognize her.”
Also scheduled to appear on the “America’s Most Wanted” segment is Christie Leigh Napurano, author of a probing fictional account of who this 14-18 year old girl might be. Napurano who was born just weeks before the discovery of Princess Doe’s body and grew up hearing countless tales of Princess Doe. She said it always haunted her.
Upon reading news articles in 2007 about the 25th anniversary of Princess Doe’s death, Napurano became fascinated by the fact that after two and a half decades, Princess Doe’s identity still had not been discovered. She wondered how it was possible that no one had ever claimed this girl or reported her missing. She lives in Hoboken, N.J., but says folks back home have been very positive about her book.
“Blairstown is a very small, close-knit community. Things like this just don’t happen. If you’re from there, you know this story,” Napurano said. “It’s been saddening people for thirty years. Two hundred people at her memorial service this year, which was held in July.”
Residents were mortified at the grim discovery of her body, Napurano said, and then further disheartened as she remained unidentified.
“When she was found, the people in town raised the money to get her a proper headstone because they didn’t want her to be buried in a ‘potter’s field.’ It’s an unfortunate thing. That’s what hits home. It could happen to anyone. How could a little girl go missing and no one identify her?”
For the novel, her first, she tried to imagine what could have happened, and gave Princess Doe a name, a family, and a tragic series of events that culminate in the foregone conclusion.
Napurano said the process of writing the book inspired dark theories about the possible killer, wondering perhaps if maybe her family did it, and that’s why she hasn’t been ID’ed.
She has already started the next book, which is sort of a prequel to Princess Doe. “That’s all I’ll say for now, it’s kind of from a different perspective,” she said.
While a victim’s remaining unidentified for so long is rare, the general circumstances are not. “They find 4,000 unidentified persons per year,” she said, “And by end of year, 1,000 remain unidentified.” There are 13,500 unidentified deaths currently, according to dna.gov.
Napurano was interviewed for the “America’s Most Wanted” segment. Producers from the show were sent up for the memorial service in July, where Napurano spoke.
“As time goes by, it gets more disheartening. But because technology has become more advanced, time is actually on our side.”