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October 9, 2020
Body discovered, some minorly gruesome details including method of murder – time: 3:40-4:01
Underage sex work mentioned – 14:50-15:05
Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee – Unknown
White Hills Jane Doe – Unknown
Episode Notes (and Spoilers) After This Point
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The past few weeks have been especially wild around here as I’ve been preparing to have surgery- TMI, but YAY, I got my tubes tied! It’s such a weird, sad, sweet, happy, BIG decision to decide to be officially done with having kids but it’s the right time for us. I didn’t feel as good as I anticipated last week because I’m ever the optimist but I hope you enjoyed the extra bonus episode performed by a special guest- my husband, Dustin.
He’s a comedian and a great storyteller so check out his telling of one of the most chilling murder stories that I like to read about and tell over and over again- the story of the List Family.
This week I’m also going to be doing something a little bit different- I’m going to be telling two stories that are all intertwined with one puzzling thread- these victims are both Jane Does. In other words, these are people who have been found but not identified. These are the cases that are in progress, and cases that you can watch for a resolution.
If you don’t know the thrill of following a cold case that’s resolved with DNA evidence then ah- buckle up. These are some cases that detectives are still working on. THIS is the stuff armchair detective life is made of. Little by little, the mystery is being chipped away and the truth is coming to light…even if the leads are decades apart, like in the case of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee.
On February, 19th, 1971, two hitchhikers spotted something floating in the water while they were crossing a bridge in Lake Panasoffkee, Florida. Now, I think when many of us imagine Florida, we think of the beaches- or at least, we think of people near the beach nailing boards to their windows as they buckle down for a hurricane. If you think of your friend who goes to Florida for vacation, you probably don’t imagine them vacationing in a swampy town like this one.
This bridge sort of embodied that murky swamp aesthetic because you really can’t even see the water when you cross over it, it’s muddled by trees on either side of the road. When the hitchhikers realized that what they were seeing in the water was a woman, they made contact with the police, and the mystery of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee was born.
Now this Jane Doe had more clues than many do about what actually happened to her. About 30 days prior, she had been killed and left in the water with the weapon wrapped around her neck twice. It was a man’s size 36 belt. She was wearing a bright, distinctive outfit- a lime green ¾ length shirt, green plaid pants, a watch, a floral poncho, and several other items of jewelry.
All of the usual forensic identification measures that most of us know from binging Forensic Files and CSI were used and investigators learned a lot about her. This is one of the most mind boggling aspects of some of these unsolved mysteries with a Jane Doe- they can have SO MUCH information and yet no leads.
Here’s what detectives were able to accomplish. They were able to collect her DNA. After exhuming her body in 1986, they were able to use some facial reconstruction techniques to make an artist’s rendition of what she must have looked like. They were able to determine that it was likely that she had at least one child. They were able to determine that she had a very specific kind of orthopedic surgery at one time, on her right ankle. They determined that they thought her age was somewhere between 17 and 24. They used her facial features to determine that she was likely white or of Indigineous descent. This last part, however, would prove to be wrong with further forensic advancements in 2012.
One of the benefits of this Jane Doe being discovered in Florida is that her proximity to the University of Florida in Gainesville means that she can be close to some of the amazing forensic techniques this university offers. In this case, the newer- and super exciting- technology called isotope analysis.
Here’s a very quick and oversimplified breakdown of how this works-
Part 1: geologists have been collecting dirt and rocks and things from different signatures from various parts of the world and collecting them into geographic databases. So dirt from Japan, for instance, has certain characteristics (such as certain kinds of lead) that end up in the air, food, and thus a person’s teeth.
Part 2: forensics teams collect material like hair or shavings of a victim’s teeth. Then they look for certain qualities and compare them against these cool geographic databases, and use the timelines in which certain materials were present in the dirt and the rocks and the air to isolate a timeline for the victim’s life.
In other words: material in bodies + geographic records = figuring out where an identified person lived and when.
You may have heard of how detectives used isotopes analysis in the super bingeable podcast, Bear Brook.
Here’s what they were able to determine about Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee: while they originally thought that she lived in the United States all of her life, in her tooth scrapings, they found traces of lead that indicated she actually grew up in Europe. Narrowing it down even further, she had heavier oxygen isotopes that usually appear near the coast. Investigators were able to gather all of this information and determine that our Jane Doe was actually from Greece and had only been in the United States for a very short period of time.
In the case of a Jane Doe, there is no determining who she knew and checking alibis. The detectives in Miss Lake Panasoffkee’s murder have even said they’ve pretty much given up hope that this murder will ever be solved or that a killer will ever be found: the name of the game here is helping her connect with her true identity.
The detectives use a little circumstantial evidence to paint a bigger picture of who Miss Lake Panasoffkee might be, musing that the fact that no one has come forward at all, ever might mean that she is a disenfranchised family member- aka, she might be the Black Sheep of her family. They also suggest that she may have been killed in the car and then tossed over the bridge into the water, hence the location where her body was discovered.
One interesting question that one might wonder about is why alligators that hang around the lake wouldn’t have cleared out the remains on their own. If this morbid question also piques your interest, you may be interested in the TRULY wild case of Mike Williams. I’ll link the Wikipedia page in the show notes, but long story short, he went fishing one day and never returned- and his wife swore up and down that he must have been eaten by alligators. Only later, after Mike’s mom insisted to forensics experts that there was NO WAY her son was simply eaten by alligators, was this debunked when an expert herpetologist pointed out that alligators don’t really eat much in Winter months. I’d love to cover this case for a Patreon episode, it is SO DUH-ANG INTERESTING.
As forensics continue to develop and change, the chances of solving the endless pile of cold Doe cases seems more hopeful. For instance, I wonder if more and more cases will be solved with genealogical DNA evidence identifying the victims. In this case, this leads to one big question keeps coming to my mind:
Who are Miss Lake Panasoffkee’s children? In every forensic analysis of her remains, there seems to be a general consensus that she had at least one child- and probably more than one. When I think of her as a young mom, new to the United States, I have to wonder if her heart was always on those kids. When she dressed in her bright green outfit in mid-January, brushed her shoulder-length brown hair, and put on her jewelry that day, did she also dress up her babies for a car ride? Or were her children even with her? Is it possible that they were back in Greece, or that she had given them up for adoption?
Ah, the endless possibilities. I can get stuck in a Jane Doe rabbit hole forever and there are so many fascinating aspects about their cases. While sometimes a Jane or John Doe can be attributed to a killer and still remain unsolved forever, many times a Doe body is one that just shows up, seemingly out of nowhere. If this doesn’t make the cases haunting enough, the databases are dark.
I can’t recommend that you start digging into Doe cases without providing a warning that the databases can be a bit dark. Sometimes they contain no images and just state that someone’s femur was found behind a shed somewhere. However, other entries include slightly darkened pictures of actual faces or body parts and that was startling even for me, a lover of all things morbid.
But the truth is, it’s easy to get sucked in to Doe cases because you can start out on a site like Charley Project, where there are endless listings of missing persons. Or maybe you’ve even delved a bit deeper already and you’ve found The Doe Network, which is the ultimate resource for digging into Missing and Undintified person’s cases. You’ll find a case that really nags at you, and next thing you know, you’ve read every available link.
The next step into the Jane Doe Armchair Detective Investigation is to hit up the Missing Person and Unidentified Body database NamUs. There, you can start inputting tidbits of data that you know about a victim into the search parameters. I’ll use the example of the number one Jane Doe case that haunts me, a girl I discovered on The Doe Network:
1324UFAZ – Unidentified Female
White Hills Jane Doe was a teen girl found in the desert in Arizona on September 28th, 2006. I recorded this episode on September 28th, 2020- and I only realized the date connection when doing my final fact check before recording. This probably sounds SO DRAMATIC but it gave me chills down my spine. Sometimes when looking into a case for a long time and digging for any possible connection, you start to see connections where there aren’t any and it stops you just for a moment as you think, “Is this it?? Is this her?”
But coincidentally recording about her on the 4th anniversary of the discovery of her body? That is OBVIOUSLY not the answer to this mystery.
White Hills Jane Doe is one of those Unidentified People I mentioned earlier who didn’t have much in the way of identifying factors but what she did have really fascinates me. She was found a week after her murder, presumably dumped in the desert after her homicide. Investigators believe that she was a young Black woman, somewhere between the ages of 14 and 17.
In life, she was somewhere between 105 and 130 lbs, between 5’5 and 5’7. She had manicured fingernails, and had pink nail polish on her toes. While she was not dressed when she was found, investigators did find a long-sleeved Hollister shirt. She had her ears pierced, and her teeth looked like she had Invisalign at some point.
Here’s what really gets me. You can almost imagine this mystery girl at the mall, you know? She goes there to get a smoothie, and maybe she walks past the Claire’s where she got her ears pierced. She gets a manicure, but not a pedicure this time- even though the pink nail polish on her toenails is chipping, she’s got to save a little of her money so she can stop in to her favorite store to peruse the Hollister tops or maybe even to sneak a forbidden snack while she ditched that Invisalign junk at home.
But maybe that’s not even her story at all. Maybe she’s like Miss Lake Panasoffkee and she’s a disenfranchised member of her family. The police think it’s possible that she might have come from Vegas- maybe she was down her luck and dipping her toes into sex work when things went even worse for her as she went with the wrong man.
I can imagine her story in 50 different ways with just these little clues she left behind.
So occasionally, I’ll get into NamUs and search every possible variation in the search results. Missing Girls from Arizona, missing girls from Nevada, missing girls from Utah. I search her race, her height, her clothes. But the real gut punch here is that if no one ever reported her missing, she might not show up at all. If she left after a heated argument with her family, maybe no one has reported her missing because they think she’s a runaway.
Or, looping back to what I discussed on the ShyShy Pate episode, we know that the police often miscategorize the disappearances of Black Children as runaways.
There’s endless speculation I could do here but this case actually has some potential to be solved since it’s so recent and believe me: I listen for every update. This leads me to my weekly action step: find a pet case – a John or Jane Doe whose case you will champion.
Bookmark their info, share their stories and if you want to you can even set up Google Alerts.
This is one of the most exciting ways to be an armchair detective because you cam be really up, close, and personal when their case gets solved. And maybe it never gets solved! But when it does? Ooooh man. The feeling is just indescribable.
Issues Mentioned in This Episode: