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More than 50 years later, a teenager who was mysterious found dead inside a Texas motel pool has been identified, and her family in Kansas will finally be able to lay her to rest alongside her parents’ graves.
The dead teenager, who has been known for decades as “Pecos Jane Doe,” checked into the Ropers Motel in Pecos, Texas in 1966 with an unknown companion who appeared to be her husband, DNASolves stated in a press release. The two checked in using the names Mr. and Mrs. Russell Battoun.
“Hours later, a hotel employee found the woman’s body in the hotel pool,” the press release states. “As the woman was being taken away in an ambulance, her companion checked out of the hotel and was never seen again.”
At a Tuesday press conference, Pecos Police Department Chief Lisa Tarango noted that at the time, the man said he’d go to the hospital but instead fled the scene.
The “Jane Doe” was buried under a gravestone marked, "Unknown Girl Drowned July 5, 1966" for decades. A few years back, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) reached out to the Pecos Police Department. Meanwhile, internet sleuth and former director of NamUs case management Todd Matthews said he came across an old clipping on The Doe Network while inputting data on the unidentified person and discovered that local law enforcement wasn’t aware of the case.
Law enforcement officials and DNA experts began working on finding her name — which was revealed at the press conference as Jolaine Hemmy, a 17-year-old from Celina, Kansas.
Tarango explained to Oxygen.com that it was a challenge to locate documents and information from 1966 that could have led to her identification. Furthermore, many witnesses from the motel have since died.
Tarango’s department, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), along with investigative genetic genealogy firm Innovative Forensic in Virginia and DNA lab Othram in Texas, teamed up in 2020 to uncover the teen’s identity through DNA technology. The Pecos Police Department and DNA Solves raised money for the laboratory work through crowdfunding, at which point the teen’s remains were extracted at Othram and then they built a genealogical profile.
NCMEC created a sketch of what the teenager may have looked like and coordinated the genealogical research. From there, Innovative Forensic created family trees, which gave the Pecos Police Department a possible lead.
Tarango told Oxygen.com that she has been in touch with several of Hemmy’s siblings — of a total of her 14 brothers and sisters, nine are still alive. One of Hemmy’s sisters provided a DNA swab, which led to the positive identification.
“She was absolutely ecstatic,” Tarango said of Hemmy’s sister. “It was just as raw as it would have been 55 years ago when she went missing. It was that fresh to this family.”
The family will be bringing Hemmy’s remains back to Kansas so she can be buried at the same family cemetery where her parents were laid to rest.
“Over the last 55 years, the world, in a sense, moved on, but her family did not. They were looking for her in 1966 and they never stopped,” David Mittelman, CEO of Othram, told Oxygen.com. “It is critical to work these older cases as the answers are prerequisites for a family getting peace and closure.”
Tarango told Oxygen.com that while there is no evidence to suggest that Hemmy was murdered, her death is considered suspicious and nothing has been ruled out. She said her department would like to talk to anyone who may have connections to the deceased teenager.
“Maybe somebody in the Kansas area knows somebody who expressed interest in her,” she said. “Or family friends that she went to school with — maybe they know somebody who was last seen with her. Maybe they know something.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Pecos Police Department.
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