New clues, DNA challenges in 1967 cold case

Ottawa County

BLENDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Cold case detectives named her Jenny.

She was young, 16 to 22 years old, weighing in at less than 100 pounds. Her young life came to a violent end over 50 years ago.

A father and son pheasant hunting in a field near 52nd Avenue and Fillmore Street south of Allendale discovered the body on Oct. 20, 1967.

Blunt force trauma and strangulation were ruled as the cause of death at the time. But with no witnesses and no family to identify the body and provide other important information, the case grew cold.

Last year, cold case detectives from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department reopened the investigation, hoping modern-day DNA technology will help solve the case.

A judge signed off on the exhumation of the body. Soon after, a second autopsy revealed Jenny had a broken jaw.

“I’m not necessarily sure at this point that’s a game-changer. But it certainly is good additional information,” said Ottawa County Investigative Services Division Capt. Mark Bennett.

Bennett says the injury occurred at the time of Jenny’s death.

“There’s no healing to the injury. So that’s important to know… Maybe tell us more about what led up to her death,” Bennett said.

It’s just one more piece of the puzzle that could help modern-day detectives determine what their predecessors couldn’t in 1967 — find out who Jenny was and why she was killed.

With help from Michigan State University Anthropologist, cold case investigators believe the new autopsy and advanced DNA technology will help answer those questions.

They hope to identify Jenny by connecting her DNA on genealogy websites, like Ancestry.com.

But Bennett says the embalming process used 50 plus years ago has been made extracting DNA a challenge.

The sheriff’s department has reached out to private companies with techniques to overcome the problem.

“We’re in the process of looking at that endeavor to see, A, what would be the cost of it? Two, what would be the percentage or possible rate of success in making that identification?” Bennett said.

Cold case detectives continue to run down tips received since the exhumation.

To generate more tips, they’re taking a digital approach.

“We’re in the process of building a social media site. Facebook potentially, where we can direct folks to go for information or to give us information,” Bennett said.

The effort is all in the name of getting justice for the young woman buried in an unmarked grave in the Blendon Township Cemetery.

Detectives say it’s their job. But it’s also personal.

“If we could at least give a family some closure as to what happened to their loved one, that’s always a plus for us,” Bennett said.

If you have any information on the case or Jenny’s true identity, please call the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office at 616.738.4022 or Silent Observer at 877.88.SILENT or 877.887.4536.

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