SABULA, Iowa The woman was 10 weeks pregnant when her nude body was found by a commercial fisherman in the Mississippi River, floating near a mud bar just inside the northern Clinton County line.
The date was April 11, 1975.
Her death still haunts investigators more than 26 years later as the state's oldest unidentified body one of just six listed with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Officials say they have never
had enough clues to help pinpoint who she was or why she was killed. The case remains open, but inactive.
"We still have a file on
her," Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln said. "Some of the older deputies who were around then said maybe somebody out of Chicago or Milwaukee had a pregnant girlfriend and got rid of her. We might never know."
Unlike young Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy's disappearance, which has received extensive nationwide publicity, few knew about the woman found floating in the river about 30 feet from shore near Sabula.
That is because American law enforcement operated so differently then. There was no technology available to instantly communicate facts about cases including missing persons or body discoveries all over the world, said Wendie Nerem of the Iowa Missing Person Information Clearinghouse in Des Moines.
Forensic studies were limited as well. Now, just one strand of hair can provide invaluable DNA tracks to help identify victims quickly and easily.
"Looking at all the technology we have now, so many times they're identified in a short time," Nerem said.
That was not the case in April 1975, when newspaper clippings showed that 40-year-old Raymond Woodhurst and his 16-year-old son, Lloyd, had found the woman's body where a neighbor told them earlier in the week he had seen an animal or a body.
Reports show the fishermen immediately took their boat back to shore and called police.
An autopsy revealed the woman had been killed by a gunshot wound to the head earlier that year. She was black, 12 to 23 years old, stood about 5-foot-2 or 5-foot-3 and weighed 100-120 pounds.
Police followed several leads during the initial stages of the investigation, checking out at least three possibilities: missing women from Rock Island County, East Dubuque, Ill., and North Carolina. Nothing turned up.
Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf, who was elected in 1998, is unfamiliar with the case, but he said investigations into deaths run more smoothly when the body can be identified. When police have that information, they normally can find out who the person was close to, what was happening in the person's life and, eventually, the circumstances of the death.
Unfortunately, the woman found in Clinton County had no identifying possessions, not even jewelry or tattoos that possibly could trigger leads. No one is sure if she was ever reported missing.
"We don't solve everything," Lincoln said. "And there wasn't much to go on."
The state has entered facts about the case and the other five unidentified bodies from Iowa into the National Crime Information Computer System for possible matches against missing-person reports.
The cases also have been posted on the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Web site since 1996 in hopes of reaching more individuals who might have clues to the identities. Photos of skull re-constructions provided by local law enforcement in two of the cases, along with some photos of valuables found at the scenes and drawings of tattoos, can be viewed at the Web site.
The good news, Nerem said, is that no more cases have been added to the list of six since 1988.
Meanwhile, the woman found in Clinton County remains buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery somewhere in Clinton. Memories of her and the case continue to fade away.
"It would be so much fun if we could get something on these cases and get them resolved," Nerem said. "There might be family that's really missing these people. It would be nice to resolve that for them."