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‘Clubhouse Jane Doe’ Found Buried Behind Diner ID’d As Pennsylvania Woman Who Vanished In 1992
Merrybeth Hodgkinson's remains were found behind a 24-hour diner in 1995, two to three years after someone buried her in a shallow grave.
More than two decades after her body was found behind a popular Pennsylvania diner, a murder victim has finally been identified.
“Clubhouse Jane Doe” was discovered on Sept. 18, 1995, by local children playing near the Clubhouse Diner in Bensalem, according to the Bucks County Courier Times. The unknown woman’s unclothed and decomposing body was wrapped in plastic and buried in a shallow grave behind the 24-hour restaurant. Items, including clothing, a wooden bead massage cushion, and two crucifixes, were found buried nearby and collected as evidence.
The victim’s cause of death was strangulation. Investigators determined she’d been dead for two to three years.
Thanks to investigators with the Bensalem Police Department and the use of genetic genealogy, the woman has now been identified as 31-year-old Merrybeth Hodgkinson, a Bucks County woman who vanished from Warminster in 1992.
Det. Chris McMullin of the Bensalem Police Department, who reopened the Jane Doe case in 2002, spoke with Oxygen.com about the recent developments.
"I'm very happy about it," said McMullin. "Merrybeth now has her name back. That's a beautiful thing."
McMullin utilized several strategies over the years to try and put a name to the victim. In 2004, he was granted a court order to have Jane Doe’s body exhumed, according to the Times. With the help of The Doe Network, a 3-D sculpture of the victim was created. Despite media coverage of the facial reconstruction, the public appeal generated no new leads.
Last November, investigators entered Hodgkinson’s DNA into an international database. In December, the DNA matched to a surviving sibling who submitted their DNA into a genealogy website to help build their family tree.
"I spoke to one of [Merrybeth's] brothers, and he said, 'Yeah, I had a sister who disappeared,'" McMullin told Oxygen.com, explaining he wanted to glean information from the relatives before giving them details. "He said she disappeared in 1992 and that fit our theory perfectly."
McMullin named Jennifer Moore, CEO of Innovative Forensic Investigations in Virginia, and Bode Technology as the ones who helped identify Hodgkinson.
"Bode did the lab work and Jennifer Moore was the genealogist on this case, and she was fantastic," said McMullin. "Once I got the report to her, literally, we had a lead in 24 hours. She was a rock star."
Following leads, authorities learned Hodgkinson was a single mother of two who frequented several Lower Bucks strip clubs as an exotic dancer, according to the Times. Though relatives reported her missing, McMullin could find no missing persons report.
Hodgkinson was legally declared dead in 2006.
McMullin told Oxygen.com that the victim's parents had passed away before the identification was made.
"I think there's a sense of relief. ... I think they're still in a little bit of shock because she was gone for so long," said McMullin. "And then I call them up out of the blue and say, 'She's dead and she's been dead for almost 30 years.' That's a lot to swallow."
During a live press conference on Tuesday, McMullin withheld the name of a suspect when asked by reporters.
When asked what's next for McMullin in the investigation, he says he hopes to gather more information from those who were closest to Hodgkinson at the time of the murder, especially friends, coworkers, and others in her social circles.
"I know we're going back almost 30 years, but I'm hoping that other people come out of the woodwork," said McMullin. "I need to know what was going on in her life, who was in it, and what was going on so I can try and piece together what happened."
The murder of Merrybeth Hodgkinson is still under investigation.