LA GRANDE — The team working to solve the homicide of a Jane Doe near Elgin stretching back more than 40 years received a surprise last Saturday: Images showing their mystery woman’s face.
Melinda Jederberg of La Grande, who is heading up the individuals dedicated to identifying the woman, recalled staring into that face and her eyes.
“I got goose bumps,” she said. “I got a little bit teary-eyed — a little bit — and I’m not the only one.”
The face of the Finley Creek Jane Doe came about when team member Jason Futch of Florida reached out to Anthony Redgrave of Massachusetts. Futch, who operates a podcast on cold cases, asked his friend if he would try to re-create what the woman may have looked like.
“He joined our little work group and is providing his services free of charge,” Jederberg said.
Redgrave operates Redgrave Research Forensic Services. He has been doing this work for about a year and half, he said, and comes from a fine arts background. He explained the profession debates whether to call the work facial “reconstruction” or “approximation,” but he goes with “forensic art.” Having a good piece of forensic art, he said, can make a signifiant difference in identifying someone.
“People recognize faces, and characteristics carry across families,” Redgrave said.
Re-creating the face, however, took some creativity. Redgrave had no actual skull to work with, just the digital copies of the photos the Oregon State medical examiner took of the remains after hunters found them in August 1978 in a shallow grave on an embankment of Finley Creek. And these photos were not direct shots of a forward-facing skull.
“The angles were really horrible,” he said. “Sometimes medical examiners will take horrible photos of remains.”
He tapped into his arts background to draft lines of perspectives based on the images, he said, eventually leading to a three-dimensional rendering of the skull. He also credited biological anthropologist Amy Michael who teaches at the University of New Hampshire and works with Redgrave Research Forensic Services. She provides guidance on ethnicity and age of the faces he brings to life.
From there, he said, re-creating faces takes about four or five hours, and this case was no different. He said he is a night owl and started the project at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, May 3. Later that morning, he sent the team members the video he made showing the face, including the superimposition that shows how the skull fits inside the face. He said that lets him check the work to make sure skull and facial angles line up.
Jederberg said she was shocked, surprised and impressed with the work. But she did not immediately push the images to the public via the Facebook page for the case, Finley Creek Jane Doe — Elgin, OR. Instead, the team arranged a video conference Tuesday with Dr. Veronica “Nici” Vance, forensic anthropologist for the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office.
Jederberg said that meeting proved invaluable. Vance entered Jane Doe’s image into the state’s database for missing people, Jederberg said, and Vance told the crew she would work on tracking down the cremains. After the medical examiner’s office wrapped up its work on the case all those years ago, state police shipped the bones to a crematorium in Walla Walla, where the paper trail went cold for Jederberg.
Vance, however, carries the kind of clout that could open news doors leading to the recovery of the cremains and the distant possibility of extracting DNA.
“That’s where we’re standing right now,” Jederberg said.
The group on Tuesday posted Redgrave’s forensic art on the Facebook page. Jederberg said overnight the page received roughly a hundred new followers.
“We’ve got all kinds of people saying, ‘Could it be this person?’” she said.
Followers said they are combing through images on public databases of missing people looking for possible matches to the image of a slender-faced woman with big eyes. Redgrave said this is one of the reasons he does what he does.
Even if people don’t recognize the face of a stranger, he said, they care more about a stranger once they see their face.