Exhumation aims to identify woman killed in 1967

Ottawa County

BLENDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — For over half a century, a grave in the Blendon Township Cemetery has gone unnoticed by most. There’s no headstone and no official marking that’s it’s an actual grave.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Team hopes to change that.

“We have a motto here at the sheriff’s office: we’ll never stop working for the victims and we attempt to live by that motto daily,” Capt. Mark Bennett said.

On Wednesday morning, crews will dig up the grave of ‘Jenny,’ the name given to the young homicide victim buried in the grave. Her real identity has remained a mystery for decades.

They’ll exhume the body to obtain a DNA sample, utilizing science not available when her body was found partially nude in 1967.

“We understand the challenges of a 53-year-old homicide,” Bennett said. “But this victim is in an unmarked grave and we’re hoping to at least give an identity to this victim.”

Jenny died young and violently. According to an archived copy of the Grand Rapids Press, a father and son out hunting stumbled across her remains in the area of 52nd Avenue and Fillmore Street in Blendon Township, south of Allendale, on Oct. 20, 1967.

Authorities said the partially clothed body had been there for at least three days and as long as a week. An autopsy determined she had been beaten and strangled to death.

But investigators didn’t know who she was. She was described as a Black woman between the ages of 16 and 22, standing about 5-foot-7 and weighing less than 100 pounds.

There were no known witnesses at the time and very little physical evidence to solve the case. One of the few clues was a report of an AMC Rambler seen driving away from the scene.

Ottawa County officials reached out to surrounding departments, neighboring states and even the FBI, but there was no luck in even learning her name.

While the case never closed, it grew cold.

“We’ve just never been able to connect the dots. We’re hoping to do that now,” Bennett said.

In March 2018, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Team created an entry for her in the national database for missing and unidentified people, NamUs. It yielded no new information.

In May of this year, the cold case team started looking into exhuming the remains to obtain DNA and hopefully identify her. A judge gave them permission in June to do it.

Because the victim may have been a minor, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was brought in to help and is facilitating forensic anthropology. The remains will be exhumed Wednesday morning and sent to Michigan State University for investigation.

“In hopes to, number one, identify her through the use of DNA, ancestry type sites, genealogy type sites,” Bennett explained. “And then B, further the homicide if possible.”

In other words: try to find the killer, or at least someone who knows what happened.

Had she lived, Jenny would be in her 70s now. And though five decades is a long time, investigators believe the math could still work in their favor.

“There still could be people involved in this incident alive, but we just won’t know until we make some kind of an ID,” Bennett said.

He warned it won’t be a quick process. It could take months to get answers.

Anyone with information about who Jenny may really be or what happened to her is asked to call Silent Observer at 877.887.4536.

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