DNA Testing Helps Identify Illinois Woman Shot Dead in 1976

A nonprofit group that identifies previously unknown victims of crime using DNA announced in late June that it identified a Jane Doe whose body was found fatally shot and dumped in an Illinois ditch nearly 50 years ago.

According to the DNA Doe Project, the unknown black Jane Doe was identified as JoAnne Smith, aka “Vickie” Smith, of Ohio.

Smith’s body was found about 50 miles southwest of Chicago near Seneca, Illinois in 1976. She had been shot in the head and dumped in a ditch. The case was closed two months later after police were unable to identify the victim, and she was buried in an unmarked grave.

However, in 2017, the Grundy County Coroner’s Office reopened the case and exhumed Smith’s body the following year, hoping that modern forensic science could identify her.

The coroner enlisted the help of the DNA Doe Project whose genealogists then spent over four years trying to find the unidentified woman’s family tree. However, the effort was complicated after investigators discovered familial matches to Jane Doe, most of whom never heard of her.

As it turned out, Vickie Smith had been adopted. The team tracked down a branch of Smith’s biological family, including the woman who gave birth to her.

With the birth mother identified, the group located Smith’s original birth certificate in the vital records department in Cincinnati, Ohio. They eventually obtained the adoption records from the Hamilton County Probate Court.

The group said in a statement that identifying unknown black victims was more difficult than identifying those of Northern European descent since the DNA of blacks is not commonly found in public databases.

Smith’s brother Ronnie told CBS News that his adopted sister went missing from their home in Cincinnati in 1976 when he was just eight years old.

Ronnie Smith said while he had some closure knowing what happened to his sister, he wanted to find the person responsible for killing her.