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Crowdfunded Forensic DNA Testing Leads to Identity of County’s Oldest Jane Doe Case

Colleen Audrey Rice was identified as Mohave County, Arizona's oldest Jane Doe case on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

Colleen Audrey Rice was identified as Mohave County, Arizona’s oldest Jane Doe case on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Images from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office)

More than 50 years after discovering the body of a woman in a cardigan sweater and burnt orange stretch pants tossed in a canvas sack near a desert highway in Arizona, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office finally has a name for their oldest Jane Doe case.

Colleen Audrey Rice was born on March 17, 1913, in Portsmouth, Ohio, the sheriff’s office said. She was married in 1946 in Ohio and estranged from her family. Her body was found in January 1971, near a dirt road, just over 2 miles east of U.S. Highway 93 on Hackberry Road, investigators said.

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The body showed no signs of blunt force trauma and there were no gunshot wounds. The coroner’s office listed the cause and manner of death as unknown, investigators said.

Little is known of the victim’s life or how she came to be in Arizona, officials said.

For Lori Miller, the sheriff’s investigator who took up the cold case in September 2021 and talked to the composite sketch taped to her computer daily, it’s a relief and it’s frustrating.

“This was a Jane Doe,” Miller said. “Now I got a name. She’s always been a person. Now she’s a person with a name. It kinda hits you.”

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The timeline to learning her identity started in September 2021. Miller, a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, and her partner, combed through the file to see if they could try to resubmit evidence from the cold case.

Last May, the County exhumed her remains from a grave with a marker — Jane Doe, Died Jan 29, 1971 — from the dirt-covered county section of the Mountain View Cemetery in Kingman, Ariz.

A grave marker for Jane Doe sits in a cemetery in Kingman, Ariz.

A grave marker for Jane Doe sits in a cemetery in Kingman, Ariz. (Mohave County Sheriff’s Office)

Investigators tried fingerprints, but couldn’t get anything. They investigated the label on the canvas sack with the business name printed in green. But the company had been bought out.

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They couldn’t find anything in the multi-colored long-sleeve blouse, a black long-sleeve cardigan sweater, and burnt orange stretch pants. They struck out with dental records. They posted on Facebook, but they got nothing.

“So basically all we had left was to try to identify her through genetic genealogy,” Miller said.

Investigators worked with Othram Inc., a genealogical forensics lab in Texas to determine if DNA testing and forensic-grade genome sequencing could help. But the sheriff’s office didn’t have the $7,500 required to begin the process.

So they committed $1,000 and crowdsourced the rest.

Through DNA Solves, they raised the remaining $6,500 to have her DNA tested within five days.

“There’s some very nice people out there,” Miller said.

The testing began in late 2022 and on Monday, “the victim found her voice,” the sheriff’s office said.

DNA testing of a relative confirmed the identity.

It came after “countless hours of investigation into her family tree and contact with distant family relatives,” the agency said.

They have no leads on the suspect and are working to find the family.

“We’re working backward,” Miller said.

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.

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