The date was February 28th, 1983. Two men were searching for scrap metal in the basement of an abandoned apartment building in St. Louis. Their search was uneventful until one of them lit a cigarette- and the light from that revealed something a lot more profound than metal.
On the ground was the headless body of a young girl, dressed only in a bloody yellow sweater. Police were on the scene within minutes. It was determined that the girl was bound and strangled to death, and was decapitated post-mortem before being dumped in the basement. It seemed like an open and shut case (a murder and dismemberment this brutal, especially of a child, isn’t one to go unnoticed), but there were a few problems. There were no missing children matching the description of the child (an African-American girl, aged eight to eleven, and tall for her age at a height of 4’11” to 5’6″), and there were no girls who had transferred out of the school district who matched that description either. Nobody came forward with any leads or tips, and the girl’s head was never found. She remains unidentified to this day.
The building where the body was found. It has since been demolished.
“Little Jane Doe,” as authorities called her, stands out among the cases of other unidentified children. With few exceptions, they all follow the same pattern: these children are much younger than Little Jane, too young to be in school, and all signs point to the families being involved. Many appeared to have been abused and/or neglected, and with the responsible party never reporting their child missing, they can easily slip through the cracks. (See the cases of Erica Green, Jon-Niece Jones, Anjelica Castillo and Bella Bond, formerly unidentified children that fit into this pattern).
But Little Jane was old enough to be in school, where teachers would have noticed her absence. She was well-nourished, and no scars or previously broken bones were found. With no previous signs of abuse or neglect, her murder seemed to be an isolated event. It is likely that the killer knew the St. Louis area well, but Little Jane was proven to not be native to the area. Isotope testing conducted in 2013 revealed she had lived most of her life in Georgia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, or Michigan.
All evidence shows that her killer may have known her or her family, but her direct family was likely not involved. Her disposal was methodical, and because her head was never recovered, she has never been forensically reconstructed. Whoever killed her did not want her to be identified; she was not dismembered out of convenience. Even the sweater she wore had its tags cut out so its brand or where it may have been from could not be determined. She may have been taken a great distance to her disposal site.
The sweater the victim was wearing and the rope used to bind her hands.
Could Little Jane have never been reported missing? Could her family be protecting the killer if they happened to be someone close to them? Both are possible, but aspects of this case make it seem that she was reported missing and the body was simply too unrecognizable to be connected to any missing girl (a tall African-American preteen isn’t much to go off of). Somewhere, her family may still be looking for her. Her story was broadcast widely throughout the country, and her fingerprints were collected, but children aren’t commonly fingerprinted and the body itself wasn’t that helpful without a reconstruction or a head to match it to. Her DNA wasn’t processed until 2013, and many missing girls from the time Little Jane was discovered have no DNA on file.
No persons of interest (whether they be the suspect or the victim) have been officially tied to the case. Serial killer Vernon Brown has been theorized by some to be her killer. He was active in Missouri and Indiana (the state of Little Jane’s discovery and a state she may have been from) in the early-mid 1980s. He was charged with the murder of nine year old Janet Perkins, who he lured into his St. Louis home, sexually assaulted and strangled her, and dismembered her post-mortem. There are certainly some similarities between the murders of Perkins and Little Jane. They were both African-American and in the same age range, and they were both strangled to death. Perkins was sexually assaulted, and while there was no definitive evidence that Little Jane was, she was nude from the waist down. They were both dismembered, yet this is a looser connection. Little Jane was decapitated with a long-bladed knife, her head was never found, and she was well hidden in the basement of an abandoned building. Perkins was more crudely dismembered (the tool used to do this was not specified), and all of her body was recovered. She was found in two trash bags in an alley near Brown’s home, so her disposal was not nearly as methodical as Little Jane’s. The exact year of Perkins’s murder is also not specified, although Brown was active between 1980 and 1986, so he could have theoretically murdered Perkins first and gained more finesse with his disposal method by the time he killed Little Jane. So while there are some things that point to Little Jane being murdered by Vernon Brown, her method of disposal seems much more sophisticated.
Brown was sentenced to death and was executed in 2005.
So who was she?
A few missing girls have stuck out as possibly being Little Jane Doe, yet they have all been ruled out through DNA or fingerprints. I’ve searched NamUs for African-American girls age 6 to 14 (a few years give or take from her age range) and none of them stuck out to me. So Little Jane could have not been reported missing, or her file may have simply not been added onto NamUs.
All it would take is one person to blow this case open. Little Jane certainly had friends, classmates, neighbors, family members- at least one of these people would notice she was gone. If only one of them could step forward, wondering whatever became of that little girl, she might get her name back.
Or she already has people looking for her and missing her. As sad as it seems, the disappearance of one girl may have slipped through the cracks, especially in a time before any sort of missing persons database. Her loved ones may be deceased by now, or have simply given up on trying to find her. Unless someone comes forth with information, her case may never be solved.
Links of Interest