Loudoun County, VA (November 2, 2023) – In a groundbreaking effort, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) is taking an extraordinary step to investigate a long-standing cold case. Two weeks ago, the LCSO, pursuant to a requested court order, exhumed the body of an unidentified female in the hopes of obtaining crucial DNA evidence that could lead to a resolution in this decades-old case. This is the latest effort of the LCSO’s Cold Case Unit, a specialized group of detectives established by Sheriff Chapman in 2012 designed to ensure that homicide victims and their families are never forgotten, no matter how long ago the murders occurred.
The unidentified victim in this case, Jane Doe, was murdered on May 28, 1973. She was Black, believed to be 20 to 25 years of age, and her body was located near the intersection of Foundry Road and Taylor Road in Purcellville. She had been shot multiple times and her identity remains a mystery to this day.
The exhumation of Jane Doe occurred on October 19, 2023. It was carried out by a specialized team of forensic experts including the Long-Term “Unidentified” (victim) Coordinator from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Jane Doe’s remains were exhumed from an unmarked grave at the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery and transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas where a DNA sample will be obtained. Through this forensic process, the LCSO hopes to identify Jane Doe via other family members. Determining her identity would be the first step in ascertaining what circles she may have socialized in and who may have additional information concerning this homicide.
During the exhumation, Pastor Michelle Thomas, founder of the Loudoun Freedom Center (Loudoun’s premier African American Historic Preservation Group) and NAACP Loudoun Branch president, was in attendance. Pastor Thomas is working with the LCSO in examining historical records to help identify Jane Doe through family members and/or community contacts. Also assisting with the exhumation was Mr. David Harris, who along with his grandfather dug Jane Doe’s grave 50 years ago. Long-term Purcellville residents, NAACP members, and Douglass High School alumni Reginald and Larry Simms joined Pastor Thomas at the site.
“For far too long Justice has been delayed in the cases of missing and murdered African American citizens nationwide, but thank God for the advancements in DNA, historic preservation best practices, and culturally competent community policing that will lead to the restoration of human dignity to victims, sacred acts of closure for families and the delivery of justice whenever possible to those bad actors among us who terrorize our communities causing irreparable harm to families. This type of partnership between community and law enforcement embodies one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous quotes, from March 31, 1968: ‘We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ By no means are we there yet, but the reopening and reinvestigation of the Jane Doe case is a good start in Loudoun, and the NAACP Loudoun Branch and the Loudoun Freedom Center are proud to be leaders in the work of healing, heritage, and hope! LCSO’s renewed commitment to community partnership in seeking justice for victims and their families regardless of race or time is a clear sign that justice may have been delayed back then, but will never be denied in Loudoun ever again,” said Pastor Michelle Thomas.
“The LCSO is committed to bringing justice and closure to these cold cases, no matter how long it takes, or how much effort is required,” said Sheriff Mike Chapman. “Combining modern investigative techniques with relentless investigators demonstrates our unwavering commitment to identify this victim and bring closure to her family,” he added.
Before the exhumation in May 2023, detectives deployed a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) unit, provided by the George Mason University Police to help locate the remains. Eventually, the remains will be reburied with a new coffin, and we are working to ensure that she has a proper headstone.
The Sheriff’s Office will continue to provide updates on the progress of this case and remains hopeful that with breakthroughs in technology and genealogy, we will be able to identify the victim and her family members.
If anyone has information about this case or any of our cold cases, please contact Detective Mark Bush or Detective Jorge Garcia at 703-777-1021.
News article from Loudoun Times-Mirror (Thursday, May 31, 1973)
Photos from Exhumation on October 19, 2023