Benton County coroner is working to identify body in 1976 cold case

The Benton County coroner and forensic experts in Indianapolis have teamed up to solve a 1976 cold case.

Posted: Jul 9, 2019 3:16 PM
Updated: Jul 10, 2019 6:52 AM

BENTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Indianapolis forensic experts are examining remains from the body in a Benton County cold case.

What happened in Fowler on October 8th, 1976 has lead the Benton County coroner's office into a 43-year-long investigation.

Back in 1976, a Fowler farmer found the body in his field. It was lying in a cardboard box with a gunshot wound to the head.

The coroner determined the body belonged to a 60 to 65-year-old white woman, standing at about 5 foot 2, weighing around 140 pounds.

She had a radical right side mastectomy, which investigators used as a lead.

“They thought it might assist in the identification of her and through-out the years they've had no luck and worked extremely hard to try to identify her,” said current Benton County Coroner Matt Rosenbarger.

After several years, several lead follow-ups and several miles traveled, investigators decided to close the case, until now.

“I recalled reading the case when I was a deputy sheriff here at Benton County some years ago and it always intrigued me to try to identify her.”

Rosenbarger has been the Benton County coroner for 14 years. Since taking on the title, life became fairly busy for him. A recent email is what sparked this push to reopen the case.

“This year, I got an email from a company that works with law enforcement and medical examiners, and coroners throughout the United States called NamUs and they were enquiring about our Jane Doe 1976 case to see if we'd ever identified her.

Rosenbarger teamed up with Dr. Krista Latham and her students at Indianapolis Human Identification Laboratory and Indianapolis Forensic Pathologist Dr. Darin Wolfe to dig up the woman's remains at Sacred Heart Cemetery.

The former county coroner buried her there about a week after she was found and she’s remained there up until Jun. 28, 2019 when the researchers dug her out.

She was buried in a body bag inside a casket. The only remains they found were the body bag and her bones. The casket had decomposed.

Rosenbarger believes with the advancements in technology, they'll be able to identify her.

“As forensic science has elaborated a little bit better, we're hoping that we'll get a better idea that not only a race and potential age range but, you know, the areas of the country where she might have been," said Rosenbarger.

The community can help fund their DNA testing by donating to the Benton County Auditor Jane Doe Fund. The office is located at 706 East 5th Street, Suite 21, Fowler, IN 47944. You can send by mail as well.

Rosenbarger said with all the different DNA tests they’re looking to run it’ll cost anywhere from $5000 to 7000.

He said he knows the power of closure for families when it comes to sudden death.

“This can give some family that has always wondered what happened to her, what happened to their mom, their grandmother, their sister, their aunt, we're really just hoping to give them some closure and that would bring a lot of satisfaction to all the people that worked on this so hard.”

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