WARE COUNTY, Ga. – On Dec. 21, 1988, road workers discovered the remains of a young girl, believed to be about 3 years old, just off Duncan Bridge Road in Ware County, Georgia. No one came forward to claim the child, and exactly 34 years later, her identity remains a mystery.
“She was definitely placed in this area hoping not to be found,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Jason Seacrist said. “We know that from the container she was in.”
That container was within an old television cabinet. Seacrist said it was clear that whoever placed her there went to great lengths to keep her hidden. The road itself, at the time, was used as an illegal dump site.
“I think that’s the piece where some plywood put over the face of the old cabinet was nailed in,” Seacrist said as he showed News4JAX an original crime scene picture.
The child came to be known as “Baby Jane Doe,” sometimes “Christmas Jane Doe.” While her cause of death could not be determined, it is believed she died two to three months before she was found.
She was African-American and had pierced ears and wore thermal bottoms and a white pullover sweater with a pink pony emblem. Despite exhaustive searches from the sheriff’s office, no children were reported missing. The case quickly went cold.
“They’ve looked at missing children out of Michigan, I believe out of Pennsylvania and South Carolina, just to name a few states,” Seacrist said. “This child has never been identified.”
That brings this story now to advanced forensic testing. Seacrist said for the last two years, the GBI has been utilizing advanced DNA testing in hopes of finding Baby Jane Doe’s relatives. It’s a process that undoubtedly comes with challenges. That includes cost, among others.
“The DNA technology does not necessarily take us directly to a parent. A lot of times it can be second, third, fourth cousins, and sometimes more far removed than that,” Seacrist explains. “Then we have to go through and start trying to interview, and try to make a determination of which direction to go in.”
The process has worked. Less than three weeks ago, genealogy DNA testing led to 4-year-old Joseph Zarelli being identified as Philadelphia’s “boy in the box.” In 1957, the boy’s remains were found inside a cardboard box discarded on the side of the road. Despite worldwide attention, his identity remained a mystery for 65 years.
Seacrist said Zarelli’s case, along with those of countless other recently solved cold cases, is extremely encouraging.
“That’s something that gives us hope, that lets us know the possibility is still out there,” Seacrist said. “That it’s not too late.”
Seacrist believes someone not only knows who Baby Jane Doe is but misses her. That person may have even been looking all along.
“There is somebody out there who remembers a family member, a family friend, a neighbor, whose little girl went away with an explanation that didn’t seem right,” Seacrist said. “Deep down in their gut they knew something wasn’t right. I believe that finding this little girl’s identity and her family will help heal in some way.”
Seacrist said even though GBI is the lead agency in this investigation, it’s been a true partnership with the Ware County Sheriff’s Office since day one. He went on to say the original detectives in the case never forgot this child’s story and still hope for answers.
Seacrist confirmed to News4JAX that a generous person in the community, who wished to remain anonymous, has just put up a $5,000 reward for information to help identify Baby Jane Doe. There is a possibility Baby Jane Doe may have ties to Albany, Georgia, about two hours west of Waycross.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Tip Line is the way to phone in information. The number to call is 1-800-597-8477. To see the child’s poster from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, visit: Have you seen this child? (missingkids.org)