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Headless Woman Found Along Spokane River Finally Identified After Nearly 40 Years

Rather than calling the unidentified woman found along the Spokane River in 1984 "Jane Doe," the corpse was nicknamed "Millie" for nearly 40 years before being identified as Ruth Belle Waymire, 24.

By Christina Coulter

A Jane Doe found naked and decapitated along the Spokane River in Washington  nearly 40 years ago has been identified thanks to advances in genetic genealogy, authorities say.

The then-unknown woman’s body was found on Jan. 20, 1984 by two fisherman, according to the Spokane Police Department. Her hands and feet had been dismembered, in addition to her body being decapitated.

Rather than calling the unidentified woman found in 1984 "Jane Doe" per usual procedure, the corpse was nicknamed "Millie." According to a police press release, the daughter of one of the detectives investigating the case told him that "no one deserves not to have a name."

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In April of 1998, a human skull was found by a woman walking her dog in a vacant lot near the river and investigators suspected it belonged to “Millie,” though they were unable to get confirmation for another three years. Then, thanks to advances in DNA testing, the body was exhumed and authorities confirmed the separate remains belonged to the same victim.

Forensic drawings and a facial reconstruction based on the skull were made in 2002 to assist with the investigation, and the details "Millie's" case were uploaded to the national missing persons identification system NamUs in 2007. But despite these advances and hundreds of tips, the body's identity remained unknown until this year, detectives said. 

Ruth Belle Waymire and an artist's sketch of a head

Othram Inc., a company that specializes in working with degraded DNA samples and cross-referencing them with genealogy databases, created a DNA profile from samples taken from the woman's torso in 2021.

A relative was found in Spokane and assisted police with their investigation. Police were able to narrow down their search to two sisters found in public records – further investigation by Othram revealed that "Millie" must be one of them.

On Feb. 17, 2023, "Millie" was identified as Ruth Belle Waymire, who would have been 24 at the time of her death and 63 next month.

Oklahoma City Police Department Cold Case Unit detectives tracked down Waymire's younger sister, alive and residing in the Midwest, and procured DNA samples to confirm their identification.

Born in 1960, Ruth attended Rogers High School, detectives learned. Photos distributed by the Spokane Police Department were taken during her sophomore year there. 

When their parents divorced, Waymire and her sister moved in with her mother and relatives living in Spokane. But after their mother died, the two sisters grew apart and lost contact. 

A photo of Trampas D.L. Vaughn

At the time of her death, investigators wrote in their release, Waymire was married to her second husband, Trampas D.L. Vaughn, who had been born in Iowa and served prison time there before moving to the Pacific Northwest. Authorities didn’t disclose what he served jail time for. They did note, however, that he never reported her missing. He died in Sutter County California in 2017 at the age of 72.  

Investigators described Waymire as living a “vagabond lifestyle,” spending time in Wenatchee as well as Spokane, according to the police press release.

An autopsy carried out at the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office at the time of her body's discovery determined she had given birth within two years of her death. However, detectives have yet to find records of the woman's child or children.

Now, detectives are hopeful that anyone who knew Waymire will reach out to provide further information that could lead police to her killer. Anyone with relevant information is urged to call (509) 456-2233.

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