Pecos, TEXAS (ABC Big 2/FOX 24) – The case of the “Pecos Jane Doe” was unsolved for decades up until this January, when the 17-year-old girl who died was identified as Jolaine Hemmy. The case still has some questions that may never be answered, but those who worked on the case have more insight about how DNA technology and genealogy were used to figure out who Hemmy was. According to one person on the case, the Pecos Police Department was eager to solve the case.
“They jumped on this case so quickly, and they treated it as if it happened just yesterday,” says National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Senior Forensic Case Manager Ashley Rodriguez.
The case was re-opened more than a year and a half ago, when somebody put the Pecos Jane Doe case into the NamUs Missing Person’s Database, which was then brought to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The first step was to call the Pecos Police Department and search through old newspaper clippings and police reports.
“We kept coming across these stumbling blocks of the case being so old, and records are not, I guess kept, maybe in prime condition like they should be. Now, you know, there’s digital format, stuff like that. So even finding a police report that old was next to impossible,” says Pecos Police Chief Lisa Tarango.
Chief Tarango says nearly all the officers or deputies who may have been involved in the case had died. As a last-ditch effort, Pecos PD tried the Pecos Funeral Home and talked to an employee.
“He’s like, ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about.’ And the further we talked with him, he became a little emotional about it, because he actually was working when it happened…We eventually found a folder. ‘Unknown X Girl’ was how they labeled it. And it had some documents, the death certificate,” says Chief Lisa Tarango.
Police got a court order to exhume the body, then they worked with University of North Texas Anthropology Department to see what they could find.
“They did do a skeletal reconstruction and they did extract DNA, which, they weren’t sure how that was going to work with 55-year-old remains,” says Chief Lisa Tarango.
Her DNA was upload into a national database with no luck. Then a Texas lab specializing in forensic genealogy worked with officers and the center to find a possible relative. There was a match, and Jolaine Hemmy was identified. Rodriguez says the same technology that was used to ID the Golden State Killer helped find out who she was.
” I think this case is just such a good example of how great of a tool this new technology has been for law enforcement. And the use of genetic genealogy is a game changer for these old cases,” says Rodriguez.
Chief Tarango says figuring out Hemmy’s identity was a great accomplishment, but she doesn’t think they’ll ever know if Hemmy’s death was accidental or intentional, who was with her when she died at the Ropers Motel pool in the 1960s, or why she was there when her family said she didn’t know how to swim.
“I would love to say that we can push this case to a different level, but we may be handicapped by time, unfortunately. We’ve asked, that if there’s people that knew her then, maybe knew if there was a man of interest that was pursuing her, we’d really like to know who that was, and if they’re still surviving, at least have that conversation,” says Chief Tarango.
The chief says Hemmy’s death certificate is being changed to include her name. She also says Hemmy’s family is in the process of having her remains moved from Fairview Cemetery in Pecos back to Kansas, where she can be buried with her parents.