RANKIN CO., Miss. (WLBT) - It is a case that has baffled Rankin County law enforcement for more than 40 years.
A woman’s body was found; she had been murdered. But who was she? Who killed her? Questions the current Rankin County Coroner is now asking again, hoping to get answers with the help of modern technology.
Who was she? There is only a composite sketch after her body was found. For 43 years now, she has been Jane Doe, a murder victim found in Rankin County.
The old Byram Swinging Bridge used to allow vehicles to cross it back in 1978. Now, it’s only open to foot traffic. But below the bridge on the banks of the Pearl River, there used to be an old dump site there--an illegal dump site.
That’s where they found the body of Jane Doe.
”There are several cases that stuck with me Howard, but that was one of them, yes,” said Ken Dickerson.
Ken Dickerson was the investigator on the case back then. He would later become Rankin County Sheriff. He’s 82 now and retired.
“She was not tossed off the bridge. Someone had driven down this dirt road,” Dickerson said. “At that time, it was a dirt road and a trash pile on the side of the road and she was thrown in that trash pile.”
He continued, ”There was an old blanket that at that time; we thought it may’ve come from a motel that she was wrapped in, but there was nothing. She had no clothes. It was nothing else at the scene, but just that blanket and her body.”
”We got several leads. To begin with, there were no marks, no tattoos, no fingerprints. We ran her finger prints. We had no dental work and at that time, we had no DNA. We had several leads. We put it on NCIC and it went out as far as... we got leads as far as Canada. We got leads from all over the country, but nothing ever panned out,” said Dickerson.
Rankin County Coroner David Ruth has a renewed interest in this cold case.
”43 years ago, DNA was not where it is today....”
Ohio officials contacted Ruth about a cold case of their own. It wasn’t a match, but their inquiry lead Ruth and his deputy, Heather Smith, to dig a little deeper into Rankin County’s only Jane Doe cold case.
”We have searched archives and 43 years of police reports,” Ruth said. You know we have not been able to put our hands on that case file, at this time. You know, we’re still searching diligently for it, but all we have is a composite drawing that someone on the scene 43 years ago drew.”
He also knows how Jane Doe was killed.
”...as a result of blows to the head. There was a lot of skull fractures and hemorrhaging in that.” said Ruth.
Was it the work of a serial killer? Coroner Ruth notes it’s a signature manner of death inflicted by prolific serial killer Samuel Little.
David Ruth said, ”He was a former boxer and it was known by his confessions that once he got his victims in the car that he would just deliver blows to the head to render them unconscious and then there was also evidence that Samuel Little confessed to killing 5 women in the state of Mississippi in the 1978 era. And from what we’ve been able to find out so far, four of the five women have been found and identified so there’s still one missing.”
But there’s more. Ruth says his deputy, Heather Smith, in a nationwide search, discovered a missing person from from California.
Her name is Wendy Susan Byron from Glendora, Los Angeles County, California. Samuel Little also lived in California; responsible for the murders of three women there. Wendy Susan Byron went missing August 26, 1978. Rankin County Jane Doe’s body was found days later.
Both were in their early-to-mid 20s. And looking at the composite drawing of Rankin County Jane Doe and the picture of Wendy Susan Byron side by side, you see remarkable similarities.
“The look was just unbelievable and all the way down to certain characteristics of the teeth, so that got us interested in trying to see,” Ruth said.
The task at hand now is for a judge to approve exhuming the body of Jane Doe and getting DNA samples. Unfortunately for the case, serial killer Samuel Little died in prison December 2020, so any possible connection may never be known.
”....and I’ve spoken with people at the state medical examiner’s office and they feel confident that they can get DNA and possibly identify this person that has, this Jane Doe that’s in this grave here in Rankin County,” said Coroner Ruth.
Ruth continued, “And, you know, once you get her identified, if that’s done, then we could find family members and the family members may very could tell us who she may have been having problems with, which could maybe lead to the killer.”
Ken Dickerson says he thinks her body should be exhumed and DNA samples taken. “If...the case is ever solved, that’s what’s going to have to happen, Howard. DNA is going to have to be obtained.”
”I would love to see it solved and someone out there would love to know their loved one has been located, however they were located,” said Dickerson.
Ruth says he has spoken to a circuit court judge about the details of the cold case.
I will let you know when the petition is filed and what decision is made as we continue to follow the developments in Jane Doe: Cold Case.