Hey guys! Sorry about the unexpected hiatus. I’ve been extremely busy with other things lately and I haven’t had the time to write. I’ll hopefully be able to focus more on this project soon but I don’t know how I’ll upload.
Sometimes a case just sticks with you. I personally do a lot of research on unidentified decedents, and no matter how many NamUs or Doe Network profiles I browse through, there’s some that I’m likely never going to forget about.
This poor lady known only as the St. Croix County Jane Doe was one of these. Her head- the only part of her body discovered- was found in a plastic bag in Houlton, Wisconsin in 2002. Her remains were badly decomposed and her cause of death could not be determined, yet it could very well be a homicide.
Reconstruction of the St. Croix County Jane Doe.
The woman was determined to be between thirty-five and sixty, probably under fifty. She was likely of Asian descent although she could have been Native American or a mixture of White and Hispanic. She had short, dark brown hair and had been missing all of her teeth for a while prior to her death. Her head had been in the bag for about a year.
The most curious thing about the Jane Doe was her face. She had widely set eyes, a broad nose, and flat facial features. This would have been obvious to those who knew her and may have been consistent with a mental disability. It is widely thought that her disabilities were severe and she may have lived in an institution or group home.
Yet this physical description is all we know about this woman. Nobody knows who she was or how her severed head ended up in a plastic bag in a remote area of Wisconsin. No strong leads have emerged on this case and all theories are only speculation, although some are definitely worth investigating further.
The Disability Connection
Finding out the extent of this woman’s disabilities- if she was even disabled in the first place- could be a key factor in identifying her.
It’s not known if she was determined to be disabled solely by her facial features or by something more concrete such as an examination of her brain (which there likely wasn’t much of when she was discovered, since her head had been in the bag for a year) or brain cavity, or from genetic testing that could reveal a chromosomal or genetic abnormality. If this is the case, her specific condition has not been disclosed. Her DNA is on file but it is unknown if it has been examined to look for markers that could result in her having a mental disability. If the only indication of a disability was her facial features, than it can not be for certain that she was actually disabled. She could have had a condition that affected her physical appearance but not her intellectual development (think Waardenburg syndrome) or her facial features could have been naturally occurring and inherited with no link to a medical condition.
So its there a strong possibility that Jane Doe was disabled? Certainly. Can we know for sure? No. However, two of the three theories below correlate with her having a mental disability.
Theory #1: Death in an institution
I haven’t seen this theory brought up before, but I feel as if it could be a genuine possibility as to what happened to Jane Doe.
The idea that Jane lived in an institution has been brought up time and time again, with it being considered as a possibility by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department. While institutions for the disabled were once commonplace, their popularity faded after cases of severe abuse and neglect were discovered in the ’70s and ’80s and they had largely fizzled out by the turn of the century. This isn’t to say that institutions for the disabled no longer exist, they just aren’t operating on as large of a scale as they once were, and the care they provide their patients has substantially improved.
Jane could have been placed in an institution after her parents aged and became unable to care for her. Elderly or deceased by the time their daughter died, there would be nobody to notice she was gone after she passed away in an institution. The possibilities of how she died are endless in this theory: she could have been accidentally killed by another patient or died of natural causes. She could have died of neglect, drowning in a bathtub or choking on food while being left unattended. She could have been intentionally murdered by an employee of the institution. No matter how she died, the institution’s employees covered their tracks and disposed of her (possibly to hide negligence or abuse on their part) rather then reporting her death. If she had escaped or wandered away from the institution, responsible staff would have certainly noticed that she was missing, suggesting that the institution itself had contributed to Jane Doe’s death in some way.
There is no evidence suggesting that institutional records were searched for a woman matching Jane’s description and there is no proof to back up this theory. However, it would explain how nobody had reported missing a severely disabled woman who could not care for herself.
Similar to this theory is the possibility she was murdered by a caregiver, likely the person in charge of her well-being after her parents were unable to care for her. As with the institution theory, she may not have been intentionally murdered, perhaps dying of an untreated illness or from neglect. The caretaker likely viewed Jane Doe as a burden, with killing her being the only way they could free themself.
Theory #2: Serial killer targeting disabled women
Reddit user WillySquonka suggested that Jane Doe’s death could be connected to that of an unidentified, possibly mentally disabled woman found beaten to death in July of 1999 in Racine County, Wisconsin. She had been held captive and tortured for weeks before she finally succumbed to her injuries. The counties in which the two women were found were only a few hours away from one another, and it indeed seems like an odd coincidence that two unidentified, disabled women were found in different parts of rural Wisconsin three years apart.
The St. Croix County Jane Doe’s decapitation seems like a stark change in M.O. from the Racine County Jane Doe, who was left in in a field, but it is possible they met similar fates since the decapitated woman’s cause of death was never discovered. However, a connection to the Racine County Jane Doe means this case could also be linked to yet another disabled woman found tortured to death in the Midwest.
Mary Kate Sunderlin (also known as Mary Kate Chamizo) was a developmentally disabled woman found months after the Racine County Jane Doe in December 1999 in a forest preserve north of Chicago, Illinois and was not identified until 2006. Three men were arrested for her murder, and while one died in prison, the other two were exonerated after it was discovered that forensic evidence did not match with their (likely coerced) confessions. Her case remains unsolved, but Sunderlin was known to have been in contact with two women who had allegedly manipulated and exploited the disabled and elderly.
Our Jane Doe might have been lured in with a similar promise. Her disabilities would likely be less severe as they were thought to be in the ‘institution theory’, being able to make decisions for herself and her disappearance being thought of as voluntary by her loved ones. But if the mysterious women were connected to Sunderlin’s murder, did they lend a hand in the deaths of either of the Jane Does? And if the same killer was behind the deaths of all three women, why change their M.O. so drastically for the last victim? Could all three murders have been committed by separate people, the victims’ disabilities nothing more than a coincidence? Could the same killer be responsible for the deaths of the Racine County Jane Doe and Mary Kate Sunderlin but not the St. Croix County Jane Doe? Could a serial killer have claimed the lives of all three?
Even if this theory is nothing more than wild, coincidence-based speculation, the death of our Jane Doe could still be the work of a serial killer.
Theory #3: Yet another serial killer
Good ol’ Wisconsin isn’t particularly synonymous with serial killers who chop up their victims, but there’s a curiously high amount of dismembered women who have shown up in the state.
The first was a still-unidentified woman found in Vernon County in 1984, described as being in her fifties or sixties with a stocky build, greying brown hair, and blue eyes. She had been beaten to death and her killer had cut off her hands. This was likely done to prevent identification via fingerprints. Her clothing- a plaid jacket and a blue and black dress- may have also been distinctive enough to lead to her identification, as the killer had cut out the tags. Her body was dumped at the scene and nothing is known about her killer except that he was likely male and may have driven a yellow car, as one was seen driving away from the crime scene around the time she was dumped.
The next two bodies were found just a year apart and shared the most similarities. Rhys Marie Pocan’s body, sans head and hands, was found in Lyndon in 1989. Another woman’s dismembered remains were found in Black River Falls in 1990, with her torso in one trash bag and her limbs in another. Unidentified at the time, the murder was thought to be related to Pocan’s, and things only got stranger once the Black River Falls victim was identified in 2015.
Now known to be Julia Baez, a missing woman from Milwaukee, her residence was within walking distance of Pocan’s. Eerily enough, Pocan had once lived in Black River Falls, where Baez’s body was found. Neither of the women’s heads have been found, and when the St. Croix County Jane Doe showed up in the form of nothing more than a severed head it was briefly thought to belong to the Black River Falls Jane Doe (now Baez). Despite the fact that the two sets of remains were found over a decade apart, it was thought that the head could have been frozen or otherwise preserved before being dumped. However, at this point in time it is obvious that the St. Croix County Jane Doe is not the missing head of Julia Baez.
There’s certainly a large gap in time between the deaths of Baez and Jane Doe, and there haven’t been any other dismembered women found in the area in between their deaths or after the discovery of the Jane Doe. At the end of the day, there’s still a woman without hands, a woman without a head, a woman without a head or hands, and a head without a body all dumped in rural areas of Wisconsin. The similarities and time frame in between the murders of Pocan and Baez could have very well been committed by the same people, but the connections between these murders and those of the Jane Does are a long shot. However, more information on the manner all four women were dismembered could be very helpful to connect them- the tool used, precision, and skill level necessary to sever the heads and/or hands of the women could be used to determine if the mutilations could have been performed by the same killer.
As with the other theories, there isn’t any actual evidence to prove or disprove the idea that a serial killer who dismembered his victims’ bodies was responsible for the death of Jane Doe. It should also be noted that Jane Doe’s disability would not be a contributing factor to her death in this theory. As none of the other possible victims were disabled, than it is likely that Jane Doe was either not disabled or she had a relatively mild disability.
A true mystery
Between the circumstances that this Jane Doe was found under and her possible disabilities, it is surprising just how little coverage her case received. Perhaps some actual leads would emerge if her case was broadcast to a wider audience, but for now we can only speculate as to we can speculate on who she was and exactly what happened to her. Even if she was not intentionally murdered, someone attempted to conceal her death. Somebody severed her head and left it in a plastic bag in rural Wisconsin.
With such distinctive facial features, she would likely have been identified quickly if she had been reported missing. So how did she fall through the cracks? Did she die in an institution with no family to notice her absence, was she murdered by the person or people who were supposed to keep her safe? Was it thought by her loved ones that she disappeared voluntarily, or were the true circumstances something vastly different? Without any leads or forensic evidence, the identity of Jane Doe- and her killer- will likely never be discovered.
Links of Interest
St. Croix County Jane Doe:
Racine County Jane Doe:
Mary Kate Sunderlin/Chamizo:
Vernon County Jane Doe:
Black River Falls Jane Doe/Julia Baez: