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UNSOLVED | Justice for Jane Doe

Thirty years ago, an unidentified woman was found mutilated in a rural area of Kentucky. The woman has never been identified and her murder has yet to be solved.

"For years, every time you close your eyes you see that raising up in front of you,” Joy Kelly recounts an encounter with a sinister sight. “It was just a horrible feeling.”

Joy Kelly, suited to her name, welcomed us into her home with all smiles, introducing us to her two large dogs and special needs foster kitten.

Despite her bright and happy personality, 30 years could not fade the memory of one morning where a simple quest for a newspaper led to a gruesome discovery.

“Everything. Everything about it I remember," Kelly said. "I know what I was wearing. I know what my husband was wearing. I know what my plans were for that day. You don’t, you don’t forget it.”

But people did forget.

Chapter One | The Discovery

On the most rural of roads, the Friday before Mother’s Day, Kelly and her husband spotted a still creature hidden by overgrown grass.

At first, they thought it was livestock from a farm nearby.

“As I got closer I said, 'I don’t think that it's a goat," Kelly remembers. "I believe it's a person."

On the side, a subtle slope was a woman's body, mutilated and mostly naked.

“It wasn’t askew. And there was nothing pushed down as far as weeds like it had been drug down by animals,” Kelly told us.

Her face and arm were missing, her body laying straight across the grass.

She was wearing nothing but men’s socks and they were pulled up perfectly. Brown socks just perfectly done,” Kelly said. “It was really unusual. For a person to have on men’s dress socks and nothing else.”

Kentucky State Police was called in to investigate -- the sinister scene shaking the small Christian-based community near Corinth, Ky.

People began locking doors, going out in groups at night.

“It was on everybody’s mind," Joy said. "We even had some weird people in the community who went out and started looking over embankments to see if they could find another one [because] they were just sure this was going to be a serial killer..."

When KSP arrived, they determined the woman's body has been left for a few days before being discovered.

"Parts of the body [were] missing," Detective Endre Samu, who is currently working the case, said. "The right hand still existed but there was a certain portion that the fingers were still intact. We were able to get a fingerprint."

Though they could not immediately identify her, detectives learned as much as they could about Jane Doe.

The coroner said she was strangled, her possible age anywhere between 25 and 40. A homemade tattoo that said "Steve" carved on her right shoulder. Her remains indicated she was a mother. All tiny glimpses into her life and death.

GALLERY: UNSOLVED | Justice for Jane Doe

Chapter Two | Gone Cold

The progress, though, came to a screeching halt only a week after the discovery.

On May 14, 1988, less than an hour away from where the body was found, the deadliest drunk driving collision in United States history took place. The Carrollton bus crash took the lives of 27 people and became detectives' main priority, pushing Jane Doe's file to the bottom of the pile.

“That kind of deterred the investigation process on this particular case," Samu said. "So the case eventually went cold and people, other detectives, have tried to come up with answers to this situation, but just like anything else we all get wrapped up in our work."

In the 30 years since the Kellys' initial discovery, detectives -- and leads -- have come and gone.

“We received a lot of tips back in the day," Samu said. "There was focuses all around the surrounding states. Nothing panned out."

One woman claimed she saw Jane Doe at Freeway, a nearby diner that locals and truckers frequented.

“If someone did come in that was not recognized, it would've been noticed,” Kelly said.

With no surveillance or digital prints to trace, detectives could never confirm the sighting and were sent back to square one.

“We don’t know what the real cause, or how the situation happened for the body to end up there,” Samu said. "It's just there."

With no leads, Jane Doe's case eventually went cold -- her fate sitting in a folder for nearly three decades.

Since given the case, Det. Samu has been searching for a break, trying to find a reason for her placement and condition -- looking to the same brown dress socks Kelly remembers.

“The fact that she had socks on her feet. No other clothing on just her socks," Samu said. "Why did she have male socks on her feet? What does that mean?”

Samu said he still receives tips the most recent sent five months ago.

Sealed in an envelope, a sample of Jane Doe’s hair collected at the scene by the coroner could be a key rediscovery. A few months ago the sample was sent to NamUS to determine if DNA can be obtained. With today's technology, Detective Samu hopes DNA will reveal Jane Doe’s identity.

Can the fingerprint resolve to something? Absolutely," Samu said. "Can the DNA from the hair? Absolutely.”

Samu said he will continue searching for answers, relying on any tips or resources people might have because he knows someone must be looking for Jane Doe.

“You know that this person had family somewhere," Samu said. “It's going to be somebody who says this is my mom, this is my sister, this is a relative of some sorts.”

Though her town has gotten over their fears since the discovery, Kelly said she still hopes detectives can solve the case for Jane Doe's loved ones.

“I don’t think I worry about...finding out who did it, but I think there’s a family somewhere that needs it resolved and that would mean a lot to me,” Kelly said.

Jane Doe is among a handful of other unmarked graves in a section of Monterey Cemetery in Owenton. She has no headstone; officials aren't even sure which grave is hers, but Samu said he will continue working to close this case.

“For now, I’ve got the ball and I’m going to run with it,” Samu said.

A break in the case would not only mean solving a 30-year-old case but finding possible closure for those who knew Jane Doe.

“30 years," Kelly remarked. "Somebody is missing somebody.”

Identifying Jane Doe could lead to finding out who saw her alive last and lead investigators to her killer.

Chapter Three | Help Solve My Case

Jane Doe was white with dark brown or black hair, believed to be anywhere from 25 to 40 years old, 5 feet tall and 120 lbs.

Her partially decomposed body was found in a grassy area about 18 miles south of Owenton on Highway 330 on May 6, 1988.

If you have any information that could help identify her, please contact Detective Endre Samu at 502-532-6363 or endre.samu@ky.gov.

You can also find more on Jane Doe's case at the NamUs website.

Get a Behind-the-Scenes look at Jane Doe's story here.


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