UNSOLVED COLD CASE MURDER: Baby Jane Doe Opelika, Alabama

UNSOLVED COLD CASE MURDER: Baby Jane Doe Opelika, Alabama

Baby Jane Doe Case Updates

All updates on the case will be in various colours, as follows:

– Date: 16th November 2019 (red)

Detective Sergeant Alfred White Update

Question asked to Sergeant White: Was the soil tested by forensics where the body parts were found (I am thinking more along the lines of if Baby Doe had been there the whole time and not moved there by animals or so on that there might have been some DNA around the soil)?/ Is there any possibility the remains could have been washed downstream by the creek during stormy weather?

Answer: Experts from Auburn University had surveyed the area Baby Doe was found and concluded that it was likely Baby Doe was put in the same general area that her remains were found. One of his concerns was that she drifted to where she was found via the nearby creek, but that scenario was eliminated by the experts due to the type of terrain and the amount of water it would take to overflow the creek for this to occur.

Question asked to Sergeant White: We had read somewhere about the possibility of the body being thrown from railings close to the wooded area, would any of the injuries have been caused by this? Or, is this a theory with no evidence to back it up?

Answer: It is possible but not likely.  There’s no evidence to suggest that occurred. 

Question asked to Sergeant White: Is the wooded area not a popular place for the residents? I.e. local children? Or, is it secluded and not the type of place anyone would intentionally walkthrough?/ Were the remains well hidden, or out in the open at the creek?

Answer: The wooded area is in the rear of the trailer park and backs up to a creek.  Most of the residents wouldn’t have a purpose to venture out into the area where she was found nor is it a place for fishing, hunting, etc.  It’s just obscure enough to conceal a body for a few months.

Question asked to Sergeant White: What size was the shirt?

Answer: I was unable to tell the exact size of the shirt, but it appeared to be a shirt consistent with what a child around 4-6 years of age would wear. 

Question asked to Sergeant White: Would there have been a possibility of collecting DNA evidence from the residents of Brookehaven trailer park?

Answer: Working on that as we speak.  Follow up with me on that in a few months and hopefully, I’ll be able to go into more detail.

Question asked to Sergeant White: As you can imagine people have a tonne of theories about this poor wee pet, one was would the injuries been consistent with a hit and run accident? 

Answer: This does not appear to be consistent with a hit and run.  She was too far off the road and her injuries were more consistent with ongoing abuse than a single accident.  Furthermore, a child that is a victim of a hit and run would likely have a caring parent who would be seeking answers for their child. 

So far, no one has claimed to know with certainty Jane Doe’s identity.  No one has claimed to know the girl in the church photos who I believe is actually Jane Doe. I know you’ll ask so I’ll say that the church did keep a log of kids that attended vacation bible school.

However, they may have discarded the records before a possible picture of Jane Doe was revealed. The photo of Jane Doe in the church is likely the summer of 2011 and I believe I inquired with the church in 2015 or 2016.  Attempts were made to locate church records but have been unsuccessful as of yet. I’m told they were handwritten records. 

Case Background

On 28th January 2012 in the early morning cold, a little boy was wandering the vacant lot in Brookehaven Trailer Park of Opelika, Alabama. He stumbled upon a small skull that was later identified to be human. It would change the 28,000 residents in Opelika’s lives, forever.

After the boy stumbled across the skull, the police were called to the scene of the crime. They searched the area but didn’t come across any other remains. However, a mere two days later on January 30th, the several teams of Investigators from Opelika and Auburn Police Department, Lee County Sheriff’s department and Lee County’s Coroner’s office returned to the scene and expanded their original search. They managed to find a mandible (lower jaw), and other skeletal remains in a wooded area by a creek near the trailer park about 20 – 50 yards away from where the skull was found. To date, not all of the remains have been found.

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Photo Credit: NCMEC (2019)

The wooded area was near a creek and whilst they were searching, investigators also found hair which the confirmed belonged to the victim, as well as a child’s pink long-sleeved shirt, it had pink heart buttons near the neckline and ruffles (see photo). The remains were scattered, which could have been a result of animals, this is one of the questions we have put to the Coroner. 

Bill Harris, Coroner theorised that it was possible animals could have moved some of the remains, like that of the skull from where the other body parts were found in a small copse of trees. Investigators took to calling the remains “Baby Doe” and the remains were taken to be examined by the Medical Examiner’s Office at Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in the Alabama capital of Montgomery. The autopsy only led to more questions, and shock rippled through the policing community. 

Autopsy Results

It was confirmed the remains were that of a female, of African American descent, it was guesstimated that the little girl would have been between the ages of 4 – 7 years of age before she passed away. She may have been younger than that given the small size of her bones and skull, there was also a possibility that she could have suffered from a medical condition given the size and condition of her bones, but there is no further information on what type of medical condition this may have been, or if it was a result of neglect and abuse.

Either way, the condition would have been very debilitating. The autopsy also confirmed a left eye deformity which could have been a result of abuse/neglect, or a possible birth defect.

Baby Doe reportedly had suffered from underdevelopment of teeth which meant her teeth may have stuck out awkwardly and may have had an underbite or overbite. Forensic tests also confirmed that Baby Doe was very malnourished before death which could have stemmed from neglect and/or abuse. We’ve contacted Bill Harris, Lee County Coroner to discuss the case and ask a few questions, but as yet have not heard back. We will update once we have more information.

The child would have been malnourished before her death, she had physical injuries which would have been noticeable. She may also have appeared sickly. The Coroner concluded that Baby Doe could have been deceased between 8 months to 2 years prior to her remains being found, no formal cause of death has been released.

DNA & Isotope Testing

After the initial autopsy, and once the FBI got involved in the case around a week after she was found, the remains were sent to their Quantico lab for further testing. Isotope testing was done which confirmed that the child was native to the South of the US, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and/or surrounding areas.

From the DNA collected investigators searched the local hospitals, Department of Social Services, Department of Human Resources, medical centres and schools for a match, but none were found. There was a possibility that the child was never out in public, never attended school or had any medical attention and was kept indoors or away from the public. Authorities did canvass the area, asking about Baby Doe, but nothing was found.

The case is currently being investigated as a homicide and is still active today, almost 9 years after the body was found, with Sergeant Albert White pushing for individuals that know something to come forward.

Rewards

In March 2016 Governor Kay Ivy agreed to a $5000 reward leading to information and identification of Baby Doe. A generous local citizen donated a further $5000 to help with the case. The reward of $10,000 remained active with no money being claimed.

In October 2019, the reward was doubled to $20,000 and as yet no one has received any reward money. It’s not known if there have been any further tips given since the reward money was increased.

The preparator(s) of the crime would have had to be local to the area given how secluded the area was. This wasn’t an area that someone who wasn’t local to the area themselves, or someone who knew the area well would have known about.

Reports lead to the body being dumped there, but given the timeframe, there is no way of knowing if the child was already deceased when dumped, or where the murder occurred before Baby Doe was dumped.

“I find it hard to believe that no one in Opelika, no one knows who this child is. Who went to a church, here, in Opelika, a small city of 25,000 people and no one knows who a one-eyed, black, female child is. No where in the city of Opelika. I find that hard to believe.”

– Sergeant Albert White at Lee County DA press conference on Baby Jane Doe.

Foul Smell

In the Fall of 2011 residents of Brookehaven had reported a foul smell in the area. Temperatures in the South of the US during Fall were around 62°F in 2011. Given the fluctuation of temperatures, decomposition could have been sped up which is why the Coroner couldn’t give a definitive time of death. It was estimated the child had been deceased between 8 months to 2 years before her remains were discovered.

Average temperature‎: ‎62°F
Annual low temperature‎: ‎50.2°F
Annual high temperature‎: ‎73.8°F

Photo Release Timeline

The Unsolved: Baby Jane Doe, Opelika, Alabama , 28th January 2012
Photo Credit: CBS News (2019)

The first clay 3D composition of what Baby Doe may have looked like was released 6 months (14th June 2012) after her remains were found, by the FBI and local media.

The Unsolved: Baby Jane Doe, Opelika, Alabama, 28th January 2012
Photo Credit: WTVM.com (2019)

On 25th August 2016, with the help of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Lee County Coroner, a further composite was released.JvFFVmatwWHRfvmtd53nmEJ94xpKydwmbSC5H5svBACH81CWRrrycDb7UsgQqC9J2AXC7hJNJcUGkQ2Yk7dUYRVd2BNDQZx9EmpuTCjtDHRaEG9see3dBBFsB2LB5TJ5FfzwBxUH6W.png

Vacation Bible School Tip-Off

In 2016 a former teacher at the Vacation Bible School run by Greater Peace Church contacted the Secret Witness hotline to say she thought that a child that had attended the school may be Baby Jane Doe. She recalled the child having attended in 2011 and remembered that she had something wrong with her left eye. The teacher was able to provide photographs of the child in question.

The Unsolved: Baby Jane Doe, Opelika, 28th January 2012
Photo Credit WRBL (2019)

The teacher noted that the child was unkempt, had poor hygiene, kept mostly to herself and seemed to have trouble communicating with the other children. Many of those following the case have commented that the child in the photos doesn’t look unkempt.

However, churches receive donations all the time of clothes, shoes, toys and other items that can then be distributed to those in need, in the local community. It wouldn’t be out of the question to assume that the teachers cleaned up Baby Doe while she was there, doing her hair and giving her fresh clothes. There are also several schools that do this.

A new photo was released to the media with the photos the teacher had shared. Even with these new photographs, no one came forward to identify Baby Jane Doe, nor did anyone come forward to identify the child in the photographs as their own in order to put this theory to rest. It’s now believed that there is a high possibility the child in the photograph is Baby Jane Doe.

There was no record of the child’s name, so they were unable to give her a name. Reddit users have confirmed that the Bible School often has buses that go to local communities and collect children to bring them to the vicinity. They have an open-door policy and all are welcome. Parents are said to use this as free childcare. It’s a theory that Baby Doe made her way there possibly for food if she wasn’t being fed at home, but no one can say for sure if this is the case.

Reverend Peace (Clifford) Jones from Greater Peace Church has also offered to speak to anyone who may feel uncomfortable going to the police or calling the Secret Witness Hotline. He would then pass on any information to the authorities.

Hurricanes Ivan & Katrina

Whilst researching we found a few Redditors and Websleuthers that commented on the child having had been a victim of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Ivan (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2005) both category 4/5 hurricanes, did not directly hit Alabama. However, there were six category 3 storms (including hurricane-force winds and flooding by a storm tide of 14 – 18 feet) as a result of Hurricane Katrina that caused a serious amount of damage to several areas of Alabama including Mobile Bay, Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island and stretched to East of Destin.

Baby Jane Doe, Opelika, Alabama,
Photo Credit: Hurricane Katrina, Britannica (2019)

The earliest that Baby Doe could have been born, going off the information we have above, would be 2004 making her 7 at the time of her death. The latest year of birth would have been 2007 making her 4 years of age at the time of her death. A Websleuther commented that the injury to Baby Doe’s eye could have been a result of her having been an injured victim of Hurricane Katrina, she would have been roughly around 1 year of age when Katrina hit.

This is one of many theories, however, looking at the case, the confirmation that she was a child of neglect and abuse, it is more likely that Baby Doe’s eye deformity was a result of neglect and abuse as the timelines don’t really add up. We have tried looking for information on the number of people injured in Alabama at the time of Katrina but can only find records of deaths.

Saying Thanks 

In October 2019 Meniefield presented a beautiful plague to the Opelika Police department in honour of her and the hard work of the investigators in Baby Doe’s case.

Baby Jane Doe, Opelika, Alabama, 28th January 2012
Photo Credit: WTVM.com

“This is the most heinous cause in my 20 years, where a child was abused, and neglected, and then dumped. It’s very emotional for all us detectives.”

– Captain Jonathan Clifton of Opelika Police Department, October 2019

If you have any information on Baby Doe’s case, please contact the following:

Opelika Police Department Investigative Services Division: (334) 705-5220

Secret Witness Hotline: (334) 745-8665

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Call Center 1–800-THE-LOST(843–5678)

Lee County Coroner’s Office (334)737–3620

Rev. Clifford Jones (334)749–9487

NamUs (855)-626–7600

We kindly ask that if you live in Alabama, or the surrounding states that you please take the opportunity to share this case on your social media channels.

If any of our readers have any questions on the case or anything they’d like us to ask Sergeant White then please either make use of our Contact Us form or leave it in the comments below.

Acknowledgement and Thanks

We would like to say a massive thank you to Cayleigh Elise, without her we would never have been made aware of this case. A humongous thank you to Sergeant Albert White for being so forthcoming to us despite being extremely busy.

A special thank you to Lee County DA for passing along the details of those we needed to contact to get answers to our questions.

References

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Don’t forget to share on your social media.

Especially if you are in or around the areas of Mississipi, Alabama and Georgia.

We will update this case as and when information comes back from the following:

  • Lee County Coroner’s Office
  • Opelika Police Department
  • Lee County Sheriff’s Department

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One thought on “UNSOLVED COLD CASE MURDER: Baby Jane Doe Opelika, Alabama

  1. Great coverage of this. The child in the photos provided by the church group, although not overly unkempt looking, we don’t know how that child arrived and in what state. As you said, it’s not unlike church groups or schools to try and tidy up an unkempt child as a matter of pastoral care. If they noticed this, however, surely they should have reported it? No matter, it’s a sad case.

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