COVERT — It's been three decades since state police troopers discovered a human skeleton lying in a ditch along Interstate 196 in Covert Township.
The female's identity still remains a mystery, but state police Detective Sgt. Scott Ernstes hopes that will change.
Once again, state police from the Paw Paw post are trying to obtain information from the public to help identify the skeletal remains of the female, known as “196 Jane.”
“We've got DNA. Someone cared about her,” Ernstes said. “We hope there's some family out there who will let us know.”
“196 Jane” was discovered Oct. 12, 1988, by a hunter who saw what looked to be a skeleton near the freeway by County Road 378, according to a case file that police registered in 2010 with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Troopers from the South Haven post responded and confirmed the remains were human.
Forensic tests determined the female to be white, about 5-feet tall with medium brown, shoulder-length hair. Her age has not yet been pinpointed. A study of the skeleton puts her age between 15 and 40, but police think she was between 15 and 30.
Although no clothing was found on the skeleton, police do not yet know if the female met a violent death.
“We don't know if foul play was involved,” Ernstes said. “The first step is to identify her.”
Police have tried several times in the past to obtain information that would lead to a positive identification.
Although they have the woman's DNA, they have not been able to match it to anyone who may have been related to her and could identify her. Nor have they been able to positively ID the woman from a missing person's report.
“We've searched hundreds of missing persons reports,” Ernstes said.
Police are hopeful that registering the woman's DNA with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System will help. If family members of missing persons would register their DNA into the system it could help police solve such cases as “I-196 Jane” more quickly, Ernstes said.
Artistic renderings, created by forensic artist, detailing what “I-196 Jane” may have looked like, have been released.
Police are hopeful several unique characteristics revealed from the female's DNA and skeletal remains will help lead to the woman's identify.
The remains show signs of osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis, Ernstes said. There are various causes for osteopenia in younger women, including excessive alcohol consumption or smoking, eating disorders, long-term steroid use, vitamin deficiencies and teenage pregnancy. Police believe “196 Jane” had given birth to at least one child. Her oral hygiene was determined to be good, indicating that she may have been well cared for at one point, but may not have been to a dentist several years prior to her death.