Investigators release reconstructive photo of woman found dead in 1982, hoping it leads to ID

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MILWAUKEE — Investigators have released a new reconstructive photo of a woman found dead in the Milwaukee River three decades ago, hoping it finally leads to her identity.

An off-duty Wauwatosa firefighter was checking his docked boat when he found the body on March 16, 1982. Investigators say the body may have been in the river for as long as three months. The death was ruled an accidental drowning, but investigators were never able to identify her, and she became known as Jane Doe 1982.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office hopes the new photo will change that.

"She's a young person," forensic investigator Michael Simley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/12aVcwz ). "She has to be missed by someone."

The medical examiner's office handles about 5,000 cases a year, but Simley and fellow forensic investigator Jenni Penn review dormant cases in their spare time. Last year, Penn's efforts led to the identification of Oliveros Perdomo, a 53-year-old Honduran immigrant who died in 2001 after he wandered into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Three years ago, Simley created a website featuring photos and information about nine unidentified bodies. The image of Jane Doe 1982 is there, a recent digital reconstruction created by artists at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The artists worked off photos Simley sent them.

Investigators say Jane Doe 1982 was a black woman likely between 15 and 25 years old, though Simley said she could have been as old as 35. She was 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighed 137 pounds. Her black hair had a reddish tint, according to investigative files.

"Sometimes someone is reported missing and sometimes they're not," Simley said. "Sometimes there are family issues or someone's transient or a runaway, and they die here."

Jane Doe suffered little trauma, although her appearance was distorted from being in the river.

"With the final image, we don't expect it to be 100 percent accurate," said Steve Loftin, supervisor of the center's forensic imaging unit. "But again, if it's just swelling like Jane Doe, we expect the image to be fairly accurate."

Other identifying features include a 4½-inch vertical surgical scar below her navel. She also had extensive dental work, including several fillings and two teeth pulled earlier in her life.

The medical examiner's office has her DNA and fingerprints on file, which can be used to confirm her identity if tips come in.

"I love trying to make the ID," Simley said. "It's challenging and very rewarding because you are finding the family and getting closure."


Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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