“She’s someone’s daughter, mother, sister, auntie,” said Thomas Pearce, who is co-chair of the American Indian Movement of Indiana and Kentucky. The as-yet-unidentified woman he was speaking of was shot and scalped in rural Kentucky in 2011. Forensic science has determined she was Native American and tall, but not a lot more.
“It was a hate crime,” said Guy Jones, who is Hunkpapa Lakota and co-founder of the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans, in Dayton, Ohio. “And the person who did it is still out there.” He said he hoped going to the media again would shake loose information the police can use to solve what they now consider a cold case.
“When we read about the case in a local newspaper in 2011, we were shocked,” said Pearce, who has Ojibway ancestry. “What happened to her was ferocious and gruesome. We were also surprised by where she was found—a place where few Native people live. We wondered if she died elsewhere and was taken there.”
Kentucky State Police Detective Chad Winn agreed. “She could have been killed anywhere, perhaps not even in Kentucky. We know very little about her or how she ended up in that area.” Winn was part of the team that investigated the site where the woman’s scattered bones were first spotted—by students searching for a rare tree, according to a 2012 Associated Press story. “She could have been a missing person, a runaway, the victim of someone she knew. We just don’t know. We have to get her identified. Then we can figure out what happened.”
Winn encouraged anyone who can think of a loved one they haven’t heard from in awhile to contact him at his state police post (270-728-2010). The remains were found off the Cumberland Parkway and I-65 in Barren County, Kentucky, as many as 15 years ago. The woman’s bones had been scattered by animals and water runoff, so the police used forensics, including DNA testing, to determine that she was American Indian, between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet tall and between 20 and 50 years old, according to Winn. She had had a root canal and other modern dental work. Marks on her skull fragments showed she'd been scalped.
The information that does exist about the woman was placed in numerous national missing persons and crime databases, including the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and Violent Criminal Apprehension Program and the Justice Department’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. “I also contacted the [Bureau of Indian Affairs],” Winn said.
Nothing has come back. But then, without relatives to match her DNA to or a relevant missing persons report, the investigation is at a standstill. “We have no complaints about how the police handled this,” said Pearce. “We just want to help them.”
Said Detective Winn: “Please assist us in identifying her and finding the person who did this.”