New clues emerge in 40-year-old murder mystery

A composite sketch of “Woodlawn Jane Doe,” whose body was discovered in September 1976. She has never been identified.
A composite sketch of “Woodlawn Jane Doe,” whose body was discovered in September 1976. She has never been identified.National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

From the moment her crumpled and bound body was found on the side of the road near a cemetery outside Baltimore in 1976, there was evidence that the young woman had ties to Massachusetts.

The seed bag wrapped around her face bore a logo for the Farm Bureau Association in Waltham, according to the Baltimore County Police Department. The key dangling from a safety pin in her pocket was made by a company in Fitchburg. A homemade tattoo on her shoulder read “JP” — a reference, perhaps, to Jamaica Plain.

Nearly 40 years later, the young woman’s identity remains a mystery, but recent results of a pollen test have given detectives a new, narrower focus for where she might have come from: the neighborhood surrounding the Arnold Arboretum.


“We’ve resolved cases older than this,” said Carol Schweitzer, a senior forensic case specialist at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The center is assisting Baltimore County and Boston detectives with the case. “Her parents are most likely deceased. We’re hopeful, if she had siblings or classmates — kids who lived on the same street or went to school with her — they might be able to recognize her.”

The young woman, who was asphyxiated, is believed to have been in her late teens or early 20s, according to officials; her body was discovered on Sept. 12, 1976, in Woodlawn, Md. Her arms were bound behind her back, Schweitzer said, and her face was covered by bandanas and the seed bag. Her upper body was wrapped in a white sheet.

The DNA of an unidentified man was found on her body, according to a statement from Baltimore County Police, and the sedative Chlorpromazine was found in her system, leading detectives to believe she had been drugged.

The investigation suggested that her body had been dumped between 9:20 and 10:20 a.m., police said. That is the same time a witness reported seeing a light-colored, full-sized van parked on the road.


But despite tracking the seed bags back to five stores in Massachusetts that distributed them, and matching the key to the Ilco Corporation and a night latch, detectives were stymied as to the young woman’s identity. She was known only as “Woodlawn Jane Doe.”

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has ruled out more than two dozen young women reported missing. But Schweitzer said that in the ‘70’s, police may not have taken a missing persons report on a young adult even if her parents went to report it, so it is possible there is no record of her disappearance.

The young woman’s body suggested she was healthy and well cared for, according to police and Schweitzer. But in the ‘70’s, Schweitzer observed, news did not whip around social media the way it does today, and her parents may never have been aware of the discovery of the body in Maryland.

In April of 2015, a US Border Patrol scientist tested the young woman’s clothing, and in recent months, the results came back: She had traces of cedar and mountain hemlock on her clothes, according to Baltimore County Police. That combination exists in just two places in America, police say — and one is the Arnold Arboretum.

In December, after WCVB published a report on the case, detectives got another lead. A tipster told detectives that Woodlawn Jane Doe may have moved from Puerto Rico to a block of Forbes Street in Jamaica Plain with her family, including two sisters and three brothers, when she was about 6 years old. The children in the family went to a Catholic school on Wyman Street, the tipster said, according to police.


And the young woman from the family disappeared when she was 15.

Baltimore County Police spokesman Corporal John Wachter declined to release the name they are investigating but said in an e-mail that detectives have canvassed the area and have not been able to come up with a solid connection. They are working with Boston Police homicide detectives and Massachusetts State Police, he said.

Detectives are still searching for the tip that will break the case. Composites drawings of the young woman circulate online.

“We are hoping that someday, someone will see one of the news reports or read a news article on Woodlawn Jane Doe, and pick up the phone and give us the information we need to at least identify who she really is,” said Wachter.

Woodlawn Jane Doe was 5-foot, 8-inches tall, according to police, and weighed 159 pounds. She had brown eyes, shoulder-length brown hair, and a 1 1/2 inch scar on her left thigh. She was wearing a white or beige short-sleeve pullover, beige or yellow Levis, and a rawhide string necklace with a turquoise blue bead.

Anyone with information about Woodlawn Jane Doe’s identity can call Baltimore County Police at 410-307-2020.


Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.