The Case That Haunts

The most notorious cold case in the history of the St. Louis Police Department still haunts homicide detectives

Until then, the case goes on much as it has for the past two decades, with investigators chasing down any leads they can.

Carroll's logs show he last worked the case October 25, when he ran fingerprints of a missing Jamaican girl against those of Jane Doe. Those very same fingerprints were tested back in 1988, but he wanted to rule them out a second time. In a case as vexing as Jane Doe's, police have checked and re-checked all their leads.

David Hollenbach

Jennifer Silverberg

Resting next to Jane Doe's grave is a white teddy bear, left there two years ago by Sharon Nolte, the woman convinced that Jane Doe is a Chippewa Indian. Next to the stuffed toy, Nolte left the child an offering of food -- a McDonald's Happy Meal. Today the food is long gone.

Jane Doe's memorial is in stark contrast to the one left to a little girl in Kansas City. It was there, in 2001, that police stumbled across the headless body of a three- to five-year-old African-American girl. Immediately, detectives began looking for similarities between Jane Doe and the Kansas City victim but failed to find any link. Like Jane Doe, the Kansas City victim's identity and that of her killer remain an enigma.

Three years later, Carroll has not entirely ruled out a connection.

"Hard to believe this could happen twice in the same state and not be related," he says. "Maybe the culprit was in prison for fifteen to eighteen years for another crime and came back to do the same thing again."

This past August, Kansas City residents established a permanent memorial to the girl they've come to call Precious Doe. Next to the woods where police found her body, they've planted a pair of hawthorne trees in her memory. Two white cement benches offer visitors a chance to reflect on her death.

Jane Doe's grave is nearly impossible to find. Washington Park Cemetery, in which she is buried, has fallen on tough times. In 1991 the cemetery's owner, Virginia Younger, committed suicide shortly after the state's attorney general sued over botched burials. The allegations included reports of bones strewn about the property, bodies missing from graves and multiple caskets dumped into the same plots. In 1993 the cemetery faced further upheaval when thousands of bodies were disinterred to make way for MetroLink and to level a hill that obstructed air traffic at nearby Lambert Airport.

Today visitors to the cemetery are greeted by a rusty iron gate and a shuttered house that once served as the graveyard chapel and museum. Blanketing the grounds, waist-high thickets of poison ivy and weeds choke the toppled tombstones of generations of black St. Louisans. The air stirs with the sound of cars barreling down Interstate 70 -- the din of traffic broken only by the roar of a commercial jetliner as it makes its descent toward the airport.

At the time of her interment, no tombstone marked Jane Doe's grave. Months after her funeral, an Illinois high school class launched a letter-writing campaign urging city officials and the cemetery to place a marker on her grave. In response, the owner of a monument company came forward and donated a small $300 stone. The owner's wife chose the somber inscription from a book of epitaphs. It reads: "The saddened hearts were healed knowing the pain of life is over and the beauty of the soul revealed."

Burgoon years ago videotaped the location of Jane Doe's grave for police records, afraid that when he died, she would be lost forever amid the tangled shrubbery. It is here that the former detective finds himself on a recent afternoon.

After pausing a moment to reflect on the long-ago tragedy, Burgoon is ready to head back to his car. He knows he'll never stop thinking of the little girl who has consumed his thoughts for much of the past twenty years. In nine simple words he summarizes the thousands of hours he and other detectives have spent trying to crack the city's most vexing murder.

"This case, we struck out," he says. "It wasn't anyone's fault."

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