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The case of a pregnant teenager found dead in Lake Michigan earlier this month is being investigated as a homicide, law enforcement said last week.
On Friday, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office released the identity of 19-year-old Yarianna Wheeler, according to a statement. Now authorities are investigating the deaths of Wheeler and her unborn child as a homicide after autopsy results indicated she died as a result of foul play.
On Aug. 15, a fisherman reported a body floating in the waters of Lake Michigan about three miles southeast of Waukegan Harbor, according to the statement. The US Coast Guard recovered the body shortly after 3 p.m.
Detectives said that the woman dubbed "Lake Michigan Jane Doe" was six-to-seven months pregnant.
“It’s believed she was in the water for no more than 7-12 days when recovered,” the statement continued.
Detectives sought the public’s help in trying to identify her by releasing a sketch and an image from a surveillance video of the visibly pregnant teen, which a member of the public recognized.
“When they saw the image, they knew they were on the right track,” said Lt. Christopher Covelli to Chicago’s ABC 7. “From there, they were able to obtain dental records, which led to her ultimately being identified.”
On Aug. 27, a Lake County Coroner’s Office Forensic Odontologist was able to positively identify Wheeler’s body by comparing dental records collected by sheriff’s detectives to ‘Lake Michigan Jane Doe’s’ teeth/jaw,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Authorities say Wheeler lived in Chicago but was originally from the 3200 block of West Wilcox Street in Bellwood, about 15 miles west of the city.
While citing that the official cause of death was still pending, investigators said they suspect foul play was involved.
“Sheriff’s detectives are investigating this incident as a homicide,” the release stated. “The autopsy of ‘Lake Michigan Jane Doe’ revealed she had several sharp force injuries on her body. The official cause of death is pending.”
Investigators believe Wheeler possibly entered the water anywhere from the northern Indiana shoreline to the northern Illinois shoreline of Lake Michigan.
In the same statement, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office announced a second body had been found just over an hour after Wheeler's body was recovered from the lake.
“A short time later, at approximately 4:30 p.m., a United States Coast Guard helicopter was conducting a training exercise approximately three miles east of the Lake Forest shoreline, when the crew spotted the body of an adult male floating in the water,” according to the release.
On Aug. 20, the sheriff’s office announced the man was positively identified as Martin Mendoza, 49, of Waukesha, Wisconsin. They determined Mendoza drowned near the 63rd Street Harbor in Chicago on Aug. 8.
“Detectives are confident there is no relation between Mendoza and ‘Lake Michigan Jane Doe,” the release stated.
When asked about possible suspects, Lt. Corvelli told Oxygen.com that detectives are actively investigating his possible homicide.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Lake County Sheriff’s Office at 847-377-4148.
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