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Sherri Ann Jarvis was originally from Stillwater,Minnesota, but was found murdered in Walker County, Huntsville, Texas on the 1st of November 1980. For 41 years she was simply known as The Walker County Jane Doe. Then, thanks to genealogy her identity was returned to her when she was identified in November 2021.
Her body was found by a trucker close to the Sam Houston National Forest which is 1,136.9 miles away from her hometown of Stillwater, Minnesota. Today, it would take 17.5 hours by car to get to Walker County from Stillwater. In August, 1980, just 3 months before her murder, Sherri Ann had sent a letter postmarked from Denver, Colorado. It’s unknown if she had stayed there temporarily or had been passing through.
About Sherri Ann Jarvis
Sherri Ann Jarvis (or “Tati” to her friends) was born on the 9th of March 1966 and was from Forest Lake, Minnesota. Sherri had been removed from her mother’s care and placed into the state’s custody at 13-years-old as she was known for her habitual truancy from school. She was reported missing around her 14th birthday (the 9th of March 1980) after running away from the authorities at a Courthouse in Stillwater, Minnesota. They were going to incarcerate Sherri for the habitual truancy from school. Sherri had ran away a few times before and was said to hang out with older men with bad reputations (thanks to Carl Koppelman for this information).
Sherri loved children, animals, and horseback riding.
According to Carl Koppelman, a forensic artist that runs the “Who Was Walker County Jane Doe?” very detailed Facebook page, the missing child’s report, “got lost in the jumble of missing children’s cases“. We have spoken to Carl as part of this write up and he’s confirmed a few things with us so you will see references to him throughout.
Despite, Wikipedia stating that Sherri went missing around the 9th of March 1980, there isn’t a confirmed date when Sherri went missing, but we know it was several months prior to her death and before August 1980. She had final contact with her mother when she wrote her a letter in August 1980 that was postmarked from Denver, Colorado. In the letter, which has never been released to the media, Sherri was expressing her frustration at being placed in the custody of the state.
She hoped that she would eventually return home to her family, but her family never heard from her, again. She sent a photograph to her parents with the letter, and it depicted her with hair was blow-dried and was coloured a reddish-orange colour which appeared to be from Henna dye, eyeliner on her eyes, and wearing a nice button-up blouse, with a dark-blue halter top underneath. Speaking with Carl (who gave us the information above regarding the photo), he said it wasn’t a particularly flashy outfit, but one a young girl would wear on a night out.
Despite numerous media stating the letter was written in Denver, Colorado, it never stated she was there, it was (as we said above) postmarked from Denver Colorado (which I subconsciously had already written before speaking to Carl, but worth noting). Carl also let us know that whilst she did intend on returning home, she didn’t plan to until she was 18 or 21. The reason, she stated in her letter, for this was once she aged out of any culpability for being a runaway minor then the juvenile justice system would no longer have custody of her given that she would be a presumed adult who could go missing as and when they pleased.
Carl confirmed with us that family said they were unaware of any connection to Denver or Texas areas, so they certainly wouldn’t have known anyone in the Ellis Unit.
Weight: Between 100 – 110 lbs
Age: 14 years and 8 months old
Hair Colour: Light brown, cut into a feathered/wing style. Approximately 10 inches in length at the time she was found.
Eye Colour: Hazel
Identifying Characteristics: 1 and a half inch scar at the end of her right eyebrow, pierced ears (no earrings were recovered at the scene), her toenails were painted a light/delicate shade of pink. She was considered to be a healthy height and weight when found, with good dental work, but no sign of any orthodontic intervention (such as braces). Sources also state one of her identifying characteristics was that she had an inverted right nipple.
Clothing: She was last seen wearing jeans, a yellow shirt with large pockets, nondescript panties, and a pair of pantyhose. A pair of red leather high-heeled sandals which were approximately size 3 or 4 were found at the scene.
She was found nude, except for a rectangular-shaped gold chained pendant with a smoky blue glass stone (see picture for similar style). Speaking with Carl, he doesn’t think the family recognised the pendant.
For over 41 years the Walker County Jane Doe was unidentified. She was found by a trucker on the 1st of November, 1980, naked and face down on the shoulder of the I-45.
In November 2021, the Walker County Jane Doe finally got her identity back when forensic genealogy confirmed that she was missing 14-year-old, Sherri Ann Jarvis, who had been missing from Stillwater, Minnesota after running away shortly after her 14th birthday.
Her murder remains unsolved.
A truck driver was driving past the Sam Houston National Forest and noticed something on the side of the road.
When he pulled over he realised it was a body, the person was lying face down, approximately 20 feet from the shoulder of the I-45 North, which is approximately half a mile south of the FM 1696 exit and two miles north of Huntsville, Texas. A pair of red, high heeled sandals were found discarded close to the body. He called the local Sheriff’s department and two local deputies attended the scene.
The body was identified as female, and she was nude.
Sherri Ann had likely been killed in the early hours of the 1st of November 1980. She had been strangled with pantyhose that the police didn’t think belonged to her.
When her murder was reported through media links (via newspapers and TV) several people came forward to say they thought they had seen a teenager matching her description on Halloween (the day before she was found). It’s never been confirmed if it was, in fact, Sherri that the witnesses seen and unfortunately all the witnesses have seen passed away.
One witness identified the victim as a teenage girl who had been at the South End Gulf Station at approximately 6:30 p.m. on the 31st of October 1980. She was asking for directions to Ellis Prison Unit. The witness said she had been wearing blue jeans, a yellow pullover sweater that had large pockets that was big on her as it hung below her waist. She was carrying a pair of red high-heeled sandals in her hands.
The TDCJ Ellis Prison Unit is located approximately 12 miles north of Huntsville, Texas. It houses up to 2400 male prisons at any given time. The only Gulf station we could find was located at 16811 Theiss Mall Rte Rd, TX 77379 and it’s approximately 1 hour and 8 minutes by car along the I-45 and the distance between these locations is 71.1 miles. We don’t think this is the right one, as we’ve read through the very detailed posts on the Who Was Walker County Jane Doe Facebook page, the station mentioned in the report is now closed.
**Edit** Special thanks to Carl for providing the location, the now defunct Gulf station was located at the corner of Old Phelps Road and Sam Houston Avenue. It is now vacant, and is adjacent to the property where St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church would now be (this church was not there in the 1980’s).
All of the prisoners at Ellis Prison Unit were shown a picture of the victim, but they all denied knowing who she was. It’s still unknown whether she was visiting a prisoner or an employee of the unit. No one has ever come forward to claim they knew her, even after her identification.
The witness the police spoke to described the girl leaving a 1973 or 1974 blue Chevrolet with a lighter coloured top, it could have potentially been a Caprice. It was being driven by a white male, his age and description is unknown. The witness described the girl is it being clear she had been travelling or sleeping in her clothes as she looked quite dishevelled. When she left the station she was seen walking north on Sam Houston Avenue. The police have never confirmed if they managed to speak to the driver of the vehicle, or if anyone has ever come forward. On the off chance you are the driver, or knew the driver, and you read this, we urge you to contact the investigating agencies, below.
A waitress working at the Hitchin’ Post truck stop on I-45 also mentioned a girl matching Sherri’s description coming into the restaurant on the same evening. She asked for directions to the Ellis Unit, saying that she had a friend there. The waitress asked how old she was, and Sherri told her she was 19-years-old, but the waitress knew this was a lie given how young she looked. The waitress also asked her if her parents knew where she was and the girl matching Sherri’s description replied, “Who cares.” When the waitress asked the young girl where she came from, she replied that she was from the Aransas Pass or Rockport area. Someone drew a map of directions for her and she left.
Aransas Pass is approximately 3 hours and 52 minutes (in 2022) via the US-59 S via car to the Hitchin’ Post Truck Terminal (Exxon) which is based at 500, 500 I-45, Huntsville, TX 77320.
If the person the witnesses were talking about was, in fact, Sherri, then the police estimate that she was killed in a secluded area of the truck stop. She may have asked a trucker to allow her to sleep in the sleeper of their cab, as Ellis Unit wouldn’t have been open to visitors at the time she was last seen alive.
It was determined by the ME in Harris County, and police that Sherri had likely been murdered in the early hours of the morning.
When her body was found, she was nude except for the chain necklace and pendant we posted above. She was found face down, and she had been sexually assaulted with a blunt instrument (it’s never been disclosed what kind), both vaginally and anally with enough force to cause internal injuries, beaten and strangled with panythose that the police do not think belonged to her. She had a deep bite wound on her right shoulder, no semen was found on or around her body. It’s unknown if the police or ME took impressions of the bite wound on her shoulder, but we would hope there were photographs taken, at the very least.
On the 6th of January 1981, the still unidentified girl (we now know as Sherri) was buried in the Adickes Addition of the Oakland Cemetery after a small funeral service had been held. The Huntsville Funeral Home and Morris Memorials provided the service and tombstone.
Her sandals were sent to be tested for DNA, but nothing additional has ever been released on this. The necklace was never photographed, so the pictures above are reconstructive similar versions of the same pendant. It’s not known if there were any jeweller logos that could trace back the necklace, or if the family recognised it, but the current location of the necklace she was found with is unknown, but it doesn’t look like she was buried with it. As far as we can tell, none of the clothing she was last seen wearing (if that was her, the witnesses saw) has ever been recovered.
Back in the 1980’s there wasn’t a lot that could be done in terms of collecting DNA, but the deputies and those at the scene did what they could.
In 1999 a forensic anthropologist exhumed the body of then Walker County Jane Doe so DNA samples could be obtained and ran through the new CODIS system. It said this was done in conjunction with the University of North Texas and they collected some bones from her remains. It was then that Sherri’s height, and age were narrowed down to 5’6, and age range was between 15 – 22 or 14 – 18. She was then reburied in the grave that had been set up for her.
Then in 2015, the case was reopened by the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, Detective Tom Beam lead the case, and in October 2018 they recovered a jaw bone and teeth that were shipped to another laboratory, but they were only able to recover 0.05 nanograms, and they needed 0.1 nanograms in order to get enough DNA to make an identification.
Investigators were confident there was more evidence out there despite the hiccup with DNA. There was a multi agency working group consisting of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI (Houston Division), the Texas Rangers, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). They had tried numerous other places that they tried to extract DNA from but to no avail.
There also seemed to be confusion as to where the other DNA might be. They found that Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office had paraffin blocks that had been saved from the autopsy. There was tissue within the paraffin that had been fixed in paraffin leaving it chemically preserved, the ME explained at the time that this could mean the DNA sample would be destroyed if they tried to dehydrate it and test it.
However, an organisation named Othram (Justice Through Genomics) based in Texas, were able to pull a sample from the tissue within the blocks and the investigators were given a list of six names which they explained may be the grandparents of the victim, or potentially family members such as cousins or aunts and uncles.
Sherri’s biological brother provided a DNA sample and they linked back with having a high familial link in common. It was then that Sherri was identified and reclaimed her name from the Walker County Jane Doe.
Suspects and Links to Other Murders
By the time Sherri was buried in Oakland Cemetery, dozens of other female victims had been found along the I-45. They had all been murdered and disposed of alongside the interstate highways of Texas, but specifically Fort Worth, Dallas, and Houston. Every murder was similar to Sherri’s, they had been strangled, sexually assaulted and raped. Several of the victims had been sexually assaulted in a similar fashion to Sherri by a blunt instrument, and not through penetration.
The majority of the victims (with the exception of Sherri as there is no evidence to suggest she was ever involved in sex work) were known or suspected sex workers. Decades later it was suggested that Sherri’s case was linked to the same killer that had murdered two African American/Indian/Asian women who were found along the north freeway of the I-45 in the 1980’s.
Their cases are on the Doe Network, but we have linked them here Case 477UFTX and Case 154OUFTX. Please note that in the case of 154OUFTX there is an autopsy photo that people may find upsetting. There was also another victim who has since been identified and her alongside Sherri, and the two other yet unknown victims were all found disposed of along the north freeway in the 1980’s. These women were also murdered and sexually assaulted in a similar way to Sherri and the other identified victim.
Henry Lee Lucas was initially suspected to have murdered Sherri, but they couldn’t establish a dental match comparison with the bite mark on Sherri’s shoulder and his own dental work. Those who are aware of Lucas will know he was an idiot that like to confess to crimes he hadn’t committed and he had an accomplice that he was also in a sexual relationship with, Ottis Toole. They were spree killers, and the vast majority of the confessions that came from Lucas were coerced or false.
The I-45 Killer has also been linked to Sherri’s case, given there were numerous other women found in similar fashions throughout the I-45 interstate around that time. The I-45 killer has never been caught and it’s been reported that they may be deceased.
Active but cold. Sherri’s parents both died without knowing what happened to their daughter. Don Jarvis Sr. died at age 77 in January 2018; and her mother, Kerry Zumbrunnen, died at the age of 78 in June 2019.
Agency Name: Walker County Sheriff’s Office
Agency Contact Person: Criminal Investigation Division
Agency Phone Number: 936-435-2400
Agency E-Mail: N/A
Agency Case Number: 80-11-476
Agency Name: Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences
Agency Contact Person: Deborrah Pinto
Agency Phone Number: 832-927-5000 (Pinto), 713-796-6774 (ID Unit), or 713-796-6740 (Investigations Unit)
Agency E-Mail: email@example.com
Agency Case Number: PA80-0254
Agency Name: Texas Department Of Public Safety
Agency Contact Person: Missing Persons Clearing House
Agency Phone Number: 800-346-3243
Agency E-Mail: N/A
Agency Case Number: U8807006
NCIC Case Number: U312231075
NamUs Case Number: 4630
NCMEC Case Number: 1104365
Special thanks to Carl Koppelman, Forensic Artist and creator of Who Was Walker County Jane Doe, Facebook page, for answering our questions and his detailed work on the Facebook page.