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Crowdfunded Forensic DNA Testing Reveals Identity Of 1971 Arizona Jane Doe
Using genetic genealogy testing, the Mohave County Sheriffs Office was able to identify a Jane Doe discovered in a sack alongside the road in 1971 as Colleen Audrey Rice. Now, the department is looking to the public, and for family members, to help find her killer.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office has identified their oldest Jane Doe more than 50 years after her corpse was discovered off a desert highway in Arizona.
In January 1971, a 5'4" woman’s body wearing a black cardigan sweater and burnt orange stretch pants was found inside a canvas sack about 2.2 miles east of U.S. Highway 93 on Hackberry Road, the department wrote in a press release.
The body showed no signs of blunt force trauma or gunshot wounds. Her cause of death was listed as “unknown,” according to investigators.
Based on what remained of the woman’s skull, a sketch artist recreated what the woman may have looked like in life at the time. The MCSO distributed the sketch to the public, but no leads were uncovered.
In 2022, the department — working with Othram Inc., a private lab that deals with forensic evidence — put forth $1,000 toward advanced DNA testing and forensic-grade genome sequencing on the long-unidentified remains. Another $6,500 was raised by good Samaritans over just five days using the crowdfunding site DNA Solves.
Testing began in late 2022.
On Jan. 23, Othram Inc. in Texas gave the Jane Doe a name: Colleen Audrey Rice.
Rice was born on March 17, 1931 in Portsmouth, Ohio. The lab’s findings were confirmed after a family member provided their own DNA for comparison.
“It is heartwarming to witness law enforcement investigators and the public come together to restore a murdered woman’s name after a half-century,” Kristen Mittelman, Chief Development Officer at Othram, told Oxygen.com.
Rice, the daughter of James C. Rice and Flossie Truitt, went to Portsmouth High School in Ohio, from which an early photo of her was obtained. She married William Davis in Ohio in 1946. Rice was estranged from her family at the time of her death, and it's unclear how she came to be in Arizona. Little is known about her life, investigators said.
Lori Miller, a sheriff’s investigator assigned to the cold case in September of 2021, told Law & Crime that she talked to a composite sketch of the Jane Doe taped to her computer every day.
“This was a Jane Doe,” she told the outlet. “Now I got a name. She’s always been a person. Now she’s a person with a name. It kinda hits you.”
Miller, a transplant from the Los Angeles Police Department, and her partner combed through the cold case file in 2021 to see if they could try to resubmit evidence.
Last May, the Jane Doe’s body — marked with a gravestone reading “Jane Doe, Died Jan. 29, 1971” — was exhumed from the county section of the Mountain View Cemetery in Kingman, Arizona.
The corpse had deteriorated too much for investigators to obtain viable fingerprints. Green lettering printed on the side of the sack, reading “Deer-Pak Ames Harris Neville Co.,” also led investigators to a dead end — the company has been bought out.
The sheriff’s department posted the sketch composite of the victim to Facebook, but no one recognized the long-dead woman.
“So basically all we had left was to try to identify her through genetic genealogy,” Miller told Law & Crime.
An investigation into Rice’s death is still ongoing. Investigators are currently reaching out to family members and calling on the public to piece together details about the victim’s later life in an attempt to identify a suspect.
Anyone who has information regarding Colleen Audrey Rice or the incident is encouraged to contact the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office SIU at 928-753-0753, ext. 4408, or call the toll free number at 1-800-522-4312 and reference DR# 71-0383.