Thursday, December 2, 2010

Special Feature... Jane Doe Revisited

The remains of Jeanne Marie Melville, known only as “Jane Doe” for 39 years, are exhumed one final time and sent home to Green Bay, Wis. Melville’s aunt, Phyllis Nichols, watches. Lyn Bliss photo.

Melville case ‘unfinished business’
By Bob Robinson

“It pulled at my heart strings to the point I took a lone flower and placed it on her casket when her remains were re-interred in the county cemetery.”
Jane Doe was positively identified in July 2009 as 18-year-old Jeanne Marie Melville. She was exhumed from the Darke County Home Cemetery for the second and last time a month later on Aug. 6 at 1 p.m. Her remains were returned to her home in Green Bay, Wis.
After 39 years, the likely victim of asphyxiation, whose badly decomposed body had been found in a cornfield near Arcanum in October 1970, was taken to her final resting place.
Senior Advocate Lyn Bliss placed the flower on her casket when it was re-interred after DNA testing on Oct. 9, 2008. At that time, she didn’t know Melville’s name but believed she soon would.
Bliss’ journey with “Jane Doe” started in July 2007 when Sheriff Toby Spencer was talking to the Republican Women’s Club. She asked him what his most interesting case was. He said it was probably the Jane Doe homicide because the department had gotten a grant to open it as a “cold case.”
“I had several strong thoughts, or feelings, that went through my mind,” she said, “and I’ve never had such a feeling before in my life. They became stronger over time.”
Since no one knew the victim, there was a general feeling that “Jane” was a hooker out of Dayton, Bliss recalled. The only ‘clothing’ found on her was a handcrafted ring and a red wig.
“I had a feeling that was wrong,” Bliss said. “I felt that she was a very loved person and had family that missed her. I was sure this lost soul would be identified.”
Bliss requested and received permission to follow the case for The Daily Advocate and spearheaded a series of stories, one of which led to the identification of the victim.
They included publication of the clay facial reconstruction, the re-interment and, finally, in The Daily Advocate on July 16, 2009…
‘Jane Doe’ identified, DNA confirms identity of woman slain in 1970.
“On Oct. 14, 2008, Phyllis Nichols of Wayne Lakes went to the Darke County Sheriff’s office with a copy of the Oct. 10 Advocate article showing the forensic reconstruction bust of Jane Doe and covering her re-interment. Nichols believed the reconstruction greatly resembled her niece Jeanne Marie Melville.”
She described the brown haired teen as “bubbly, not serious,” and in 1970 had been coming to visit her daughter. Nichols went to a Richmond bus stop on Sept. 24 to meet her, but the girl never arrived.
Bliss said that at one point there seemed to be some confusion regarding whether Nichols referred to the Advocate or the Early Bird, which had also been publishing articles. She added, however, she had been told that it was her story.
Bliss said that seeing the headline was “exciting” and she felt “humbled” that she’d had a role in the girl’s identification.
Whittaker had noted that the department had received several tips but nothing significant. He added they’d uncovered a missing person case from about the same time period out of Green Bay, Wis. “with a local connection.” DNA samples were collected from the missing female’s relatives.
Nichols was the “local connection.” Nine months later, DNA testing confirmed the victim’s identity.
Today, 16 months after Melville was identified, the case is still viewed as a major accomplishment by Darke County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mark Whittaker.
At a recent Darke County Republican Men’s Club meeting, Whittaker echoed his statement from 16 months ago…
“It has been nice to connect a name and personality with this previously unidentified person,” he said. In the article, he noted that he often used the term “bittersweet” in describing his feelings.
Darke County’s only ‘Jane Doe’ has been identified as Jeanne Marie Melville. Her killer, however, has not been found. Bliss, who had spent 50-60 hours on the “case,” says it isn’t finished yet.
“Another feeling I always had, and still do,” she said, “is one word… Mistake! It comes to my mind loud and clear every time I think about the whole case – and that is what I’m hearing right now.”
She said she didn’t know if that meant mistaken identity, killed by mistake, or what. But “mistake” screams at her.
Bliss said this was an “interesting, educational and heart-wrenching story” from the start. She added that she hopes some day to report the final chapter.
“I look at it as unfinished business,” she said. “I imagine Mark feels that way, too. He always said that identification was just the first step.”
She said she believes they will identify who was responsible for her death.
“Whether or not that person is prosecuted…. well, that’s another story.”
Anyone who believes they might have information regarding this case should contact Whittaker at 937-548-1193.

Jane Doe’s re-interment after DNA had been taken and a bust reconstructed. Senior Advocate Lyn Bliss places flower on the casket, believing she would soon know the name of the victim. Bliss photo.

Bob Robinson is a Senior Scribe and the retired editor of The Daily Advocate, Greenville, Ohio. You can read his comments, opinions and reports at If you wish to receive a daily notification of items posted, send your email address to:

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