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The remains of a young child have been identified thanks to advanced DNA testing that also helped authorities identify a murder suspect.
It’s been 11 years since the once-unidentified remains of a female were found in a trailer park in Opelika, Alabama — about 60 miles east of Montgomery and 20 miles west of the Georgia state line. For years, the homicide victim known as both “Baby Jane Doe” and “Opelika Jane Doe” was believed to be a Black female between 4 and 7 years old.
Thanks to the use of genetic genealogy — a now-common practice of identifying biological relatives of an unknown individual through DNA — Opelika Police have identified the child as 6-year-old Amore Joveah Wiggins.
The recent revelation comes with the announcement that on Tuesday, the child’s biological father, Lamar Vickerstaff, 50, and stepmother, Ruth Vickerstaff, 53, were arrested in Florida, according to police. Mr. Vickerstaff was charged with felony murder while Mrs. Vickerstaff was charged with failure to report a missing child.
The case began on Jan. 28, 2012, when Opelika Police were called to the Brookhaven Trailer Park after a child’s skull was discovered in a yard, according to police. Upon further investigation, officers soon found a majority of the child’s skeletal remains just a few feet into a woodbin located behind the trailer and adjacent lot.
Near the bones was a child’s pink shirt and “a small bundle of curly hair,” police stated.
A postmortem examination by the FBI revealed the child sustained more than 15 healed injuries “attributed to blunt force trauma” prior to her death, including fractures to the skull, arms, legs, shoulders, and ribs.
“In addition, the Medical Examiner suggested that Jane Doe may have been malnourished and blind in her left eye due to a fracture in her eye socket,” police stated.
Investigators believed the child died sometime between the summer of 2010 and 2011.
Despite numerous attempts, the child’s identity remained unknown for years. However, in 2016, investigators received a tip that the child may have attended Vacation Bible School at Greater Peace Church in 2011, just three miles from where the remains were discovered, according to DNASolves.
The church released photos of the child, as published by the National Center for Missing Children (NCMEC), though no one came forward to make an identification. Forensic composites were also created but to no avail.
“We won’t stop until we can give this child her name back,” Opelika Police Sergeant Alfred White said in 2021. “She was just a little girl; she deserves dignity and a proper burial.”
In January 2022, police reopened the investigation. They enlisted Othram to develop a genealogical DNA profile from the child’s scalp and Astrea Forensics to examine the child’s hair. Othram successfully created a comprehensive genealogical profile, which was submitted to a DNA database.
The research led to the identification of the Jane Doe’s father, Lamar Vickerstaff, in October.
According to police, Mr. Vickerstaff was born and raised in Opelika and maintained a long-time career with the U.S. Navy, having been stationed around the country over the years, including in Norfolk, Virginia.
In December, investigators tracked him down at the Mayport naval station in Jacksonville, Florida.
“During the meeting, Mr. Vickerstaff did not provide investigators with any information on the identity of Jane Doe,” according to Opelika police.
Investigators then met with his wife, Ruth Vickerstaff, who “advised detectives she did not know his daughter or who may be the mother of Jane Doe.”
According to police, Lamar and Ruth Vickerstaff married in 2006.
Investigators used genetic genealogy once more to help them find the child’s mother, Sherry Wiggins, 37, of Norfolk, Virginia.
Wiggins, now residing in Maryland, confirmed to investigators that she had given birth to Amore Joveah Wiggins in January 2006, according to police. Further testing by Othram proved Ms. Wiggins was the child’s biological mother.
“Ms. Wiggins provided documentation showing that Lamar and Ruth Vickerstaff obtained legal and physical custody of her daughter in 2009, at which time her visitation with Amore was suspended,” police stated. “Ms. Wiggins also provided documents indicating that she has continuously paid child support to Lamar Vickerstaff since 2009.”
Research by Dr. Rae-Venter and Opelika officials state neither one of the Vickerstaffs enrolled Amore in school, nor was she ever reported missing.
Othram’s Chief Development Officer Kristen Mittelman told Oxygen.com the case was one of the hardest for the team.
“We are grateful to have worked alongside such a great team to help identify Amore,” Mittelman stated. “This girl suffered unspeakable abuse before she was murdered, and she deserves to be known and to be advocated for.”
NCMEC Communications Director Angeline Hartmann sent a statement to Oxygen.com, calling the case a reminder to never give up hope.
“After more than a decade, we finally know that this beautiful little girl was Amore Wiggins. Her case is another example of how answers are always possible, even years later, and why it is so important to never give up hope,” Hartmann stated. “At the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, we are heartbroken to hear what Amore endured during her life, and we encourage the public to come forward with any information that could assist law enforcement as they continue their quest for answers and justice for Amore.”
Jail records show Lamar and Ruth Vickerstaff are being held at the Jacksonville County jail on fugitive charges and await extradition to Lee County, Alabama.
Opelika Police say the case remains under investigation and asks anyone with information to contact their detective division at 1-334-705-5220 or the Secret Witness Hotline at 1-334-745-8665. Tipsters can remain anonymous.
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