Identity Revealed for ‘Lincoln County Jane Doe’ After Nearly 45 Years


(Lincoln County, Missouri) ~ Nearly half a century after her remains were discovered, the identity of the young woman previously known as “Lincoln County Jane Doe” has finally been unveiled. Through a multi-agency partnership leveraging the latest forensic DNA technologies, her name and origins have been determined, bringing long-awaited answers in a case that had gone cold for over four decades.

The mystery began in March 1978, when human remains were discovered in the Mississippi River near Elsberry, Missouri. Lincoln County authorities retrieved the body and transported it to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office. An autopsy revealed the victim to be a white female who was believed to be between the ages of 30-40. The cause of death was identified as drowning. No signs of trauma were present, and the manor of death was classified as ‘undetermined’. Based on the level of decomposition, it was estimated that she had died approximately four months prior to discovery.

Few clues were available to identify the victim at that time. She was wearing a cat’s eye ring and had a tattoo that appeared to say “Dee” on her left forearm. Despite extensive efforts by investigators at the time, the woman’s identity could not be established. She was laid to rest in the Troy City Cemetery, memorialized by a headstone marking her grave as ‘Lincoln County Jane Doe’. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) in 2009 as UP5295.

The pivotal breakthrough in the case came October 2023, when the remains were exhumed through a collaborative effort involving the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office, local and regional partners, and crucial assistance from Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) Anthropology faculty and students. SEMO’s osteological and dental analysis revealed that the victim was likely a teenager at the time of her death – significantly younger to the initial estimate between 30-40 years old from the 1978 autopsy report.

Under the supervision of SEMO Anthropology professor Jennifer Bengtson, undergraduate students meticulously applied chemical analyses to the poorly preserved remains. They identified and selected the most promising samples to submit to Othram for DNA extraction. Despite the challenging condition of the evidence, Othram’s established Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing aided in the successful extraction of DNA. A comprehensive genealogical profile was built and Othram’s genealogy team was able to generate new leads.

Armed with this new information, the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office were able to make contact with an individual who stated they had a close family member matching the description of Jane Doe who had mysteriously disappeared in late 1977. A familial DNA reference sample was collected, and subsequent testing confirmed a match, identifying Jane Doe to be 15-year-old Helen Renee Groomes.

“We are profoundly grateful to the teams at SEMO, Othram, and the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office for their invaluable contributions, which proved to be instrumental in finally solving this decades-old mystery and bringing closure to a grieving family,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Rick Harrell.

It is believed Helen was last seen in Ottumwa, Iowa, under unknown circumstances. Her tragic fate remained unknown for over four decades until this recent breakthrough.

A press conference has been scheduled for April 2, 2024 at 11:00 AM, located at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. Additional details, including the current standings of the investigation, will be disclosed. Dan Heavin (Lincoln County Coroner), Detective McConnell (Wapello County Sheriff’s Department), Professor Jennifer Bengtson (SEMO), and direct family members of Helen Groomes will be present and available to answer questions following the conference.

Anybody with information related to Helen’s case is urged to contact Detective Aaron McConnell with the Wapello County Sheriff’s Department at 641-226-3360.


Media Contact:

Alyssa Erson
Detective-Criminal Investigations Division
Public Information Officer
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office
65 Business Park Drive
Troy, Missouri 63379