Jackson County Jane Doe found in 1991 identified 30 years later
JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - An unidentified woman whose body was found 30 years ago in Jackson County has finally been identified thanks to DNA evidence and the persistence of cold case investigators.
It was Feb. 1, 1991, when authorities found the woman in a swampy area of Ward Bayou in Vancleave. The body is believed to have been there in the woods for up to three years before it was found.
“When her body was discovered it was determined that she had been there for a year, maybe longer,” said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell.
Authorities were unable to ident,ify the woman, who was in her 20s and had brown hair, only referring to her as a Jane Doe. However, on Thursday, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell announced that the woman has been identified as Kimberly Ann Funk, who was born Feb. 7, 1969 in Sharon, Penn.
As DNA evidence progressed through the 1990s, investigators continued to look into Funk’s death, which was ruled a homicide. Using clay, a model was made of the woman’s skull in the hopes of trying to recreate a likeness so someone could hopefully recognize her. However, the case went cold when no identity was made.
In 2012, Pascagoula Police investigator Darren Versiga, former Jackson County coroner Vicki Broadus, and sheriff’s investigators began looking at the county’s unsolved deaths. The clay model of Vancleave’s Jane Doe was sent to the University of North Texas, where the most updated DNA extraction and processing was being conducted.
The victim’s information was uploaded to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, also known as NamUS. The remains of Jane Doe were then transferred to the Mississippi Crime Lab. Despite all of these developments, the woman went unidentified.
In 2019, an anonymous donor helped the Mississippi Crime Lab to finance new, updated DNA testing through Othram Inc., which is located in The Woodlands, Texas.
Othram specializes in advanced DNA testing, even when the evidence is contaminated or only found in trace amounts. However, this case was not as easy as others.
“We had a number of scientific hurdles in trying to extract suitable DNA from these bones,” said David Mittelman, Othram’s CEO.
Researchers were able to build a family tree using DNA that could potentially help identify the Jane Doe. Less than two years later in March 2021, Othram identified a possible brother of the victim in Pennsylvania.
“We early on identified a relationship to the family,” continued Mittelman. “We built out a tree the best we could and, based on our work, we presumed that certain relationships could be possible. We gave that to law enforcement and they did the investigative work to confirm that.”
Cold case investigators talked with him and he confirmed that he had a sister named Kimberly, who went by the name “Star,” who went missing in 1990. DNA swabs were collected from him and sent to Othram for comparison. Within two weeks, tests confirmed that the DNA was a match and Kimberly Ann Funk was officially identified as the Jane Doe.
“We were able to get some DNA swabs from the family members and they came back and, through conversation with police and investigators up there and our guys here, we were able to determine who this was,” said Ezell.
With the brother’s help, investigators were able to learn that Funk arrived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Houston, Texas, between April and June of 1990. The cold case team is still working to piece together a timeline of her life between April 1990 and the time she was found in February 1991.
Now that she has been identified, authorities are hopeful that it will lead to more clues about the person who killed her.
As the field of genetics and DNA analysis continues to grow, Sheriff Ezell said his investigators will continue working to solve cold cases in Jackson County.
“It has opened up so many doors for law enforcement to work these cases and we’ve learned as we go the extent of what DNA can do for a case,” said the sheriff.
In the meantime, the cold case team will keep digging for clues to try and find out who killed Funk. If you recognize Funk or know anything that could help investigators, please contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at 228-769-3063. Anonymous tips can also be made to Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers online or by calling 877-787-5898.
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