Alcoa Police are now one step closer in an effort to identify a young female whose skeletal remains were first discovered in 2003 alongside a creek bed running behind Alice’s Restaurant at the corner of Cusick and North Wright roads.

Surveyors working on scouting out land to build a proposed right of way for an Alcoa Highway Bypass discovered a human skull on March 25, 2003, and contacted the Alcoa Police Department (APD), said Alcoa Detective Kris Sanders. APD detectives and members of the University of Tennessee (UT) anthropology team worked for two days and recovered 30 bones in an area stretching 850 feet.

“Once the body decomposed and became a skeleton it just de-articulated and spread out in different directions,” Sanders said, adding that the forensic anthropology team also cited river flow in the creek bed as a factor in why the bones were spread out over such a large area. The team, led by Dr. Nicholas Herrmann and Dr. Lee Jantz, found that the woman had been dead a minimum of eight months to a year before the surveyors’ initial discovery.

They were also able to pinpoint the area where the female had either died or where her body had been dumped. Police are still not sure if she died of natural causes or was killed and left along the creek bed.

The forensic team also provided police with a forensic profile for their Jane Doe — a black female in the approximate age range of 17 to 25 years and between 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall.

When Sanders took over the case in 2006, he had just graduated from the National Forensic Academy and was able to meet Herrmann and Jantz during a roundtable discussion of the case. Sanders and the forensic anthropology team went back to the area on Dec. 2, 2006, in an attempt to recover more remains. The group was able to find an additional nine bones as well as two additional hair masses.

Sanders said a significant amount of hair mass was recovered during the initial search in 2003, and that investigators were able to determine that the Jane Doe had synthetic hair pieces woven into her natural hair.

Sanders said he was able to track down the manufacturer of one article of clothing found at the scene during the initial search three years prior. He discovered that the manufacturer produced medical clothing like scrubs and lab coats. Further investigation resulted in finding two stores, one in Chicago and one in Oak Lawn, Ill., which carried such clothing.

While it’s possible the woman lived somewhere in one of those areas, the clothing could have been distributed to other stores across the U.S., so detectives haven’t yet been able to determine a likely location of where their Jane Doe might have lived.

A breakthrough in the case came recently after Sanders asked freelance forensic artist and Knoxville resident Joanna Hughes, who holds a B.A. in forensic art from UT, to put together a facial reconstruction for this Jane Doe.

While Jane Doe’s lower mandible was never recovered, the UT forensic anthropology team was able to use the rest of the skull to determine an approximate match for the missing lower mandible. They then located a suitable match in the department’s bone collection and provided Hughes with a complete skull to work with.

Hughes was able to finish the reconstruction process about a week ago, leaving Sanders with a suitable likeness of the Jane Doe. Since the lower mandible was the result of an approximation, the reconstruction of the lower part of her face — from the middle of the mouth down to the chin — is mostly an educated guess. Sanders said he feels pretty confident that the rest of the face will turn out to be a striking resemblance to Jane Doe.

And that’s the next step in the investigation, Sanders said, is to identify this young girl or woman.

“Somewhere someone’s missing a daughter or a sister or a friend,” Sanders said.

Now with a likeness to work with, Sanders said it’s his hope someone will come forward with a possible identity for this Jane Doe.

Sanders can be contacted at 865-380-4954.

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