According to Wikipedia, “the names ‘John Doe’ …for men, ‘Jane Doe’ …for women” serve “as placeholder names for a party whose true identity is unknown.” At any given time, there are “approximately 40,000 unidentified decedents” in the United States alone. Ultimately, this creates a society in which “murderers remain unquestioned, families remain without answers, and graves remain unmarked.”
In 2003, a coroner name Mike Murphy launched a website chronicling photos of his area’s unidentified dead. Mike experienced “considerable criticism from colleagues who thought it was too morose, too disrespectful of the dead,” but, then, 29 people were identified fairly quickly, allowing authorities to notify their families and loved ones. The concept quickly proved to be more helpful than controversial.
“Developed in 2005-2006 as a public service project,” a national website entitled NamUs.org chronicles “carefully cropped” postmortem photos, sketches, information, tattoos, scars, and circumstances of the many Doe cases across the states. However, some of the unidentified John’s and Jane’s remain bastions of mystery and intrigue, recounting their nameless stories through the carefully recorded particulars of their deaths. Detailed below are some particularly interesting Doe cases from the United States.
Postmortem photography is included in the last section entitled Jock and Jane Doe.
Though the images are not gory or graphic, some readers may find them disturbing.
El Dorado Jane Doe
El Dorado, Arkansas
“It’s not a whodunit — her killer was charged and convicted.
It’s a case of who is it: Who is Mercedes?”
On July 10, 1991, the body of a pretty, blue-eyed, light-brown-haired woman was found in Room 121 of the Whitehall Motel in El Dorado, Arkansas. She had been shot and killed by an unknown assailant earlier the same day. The woman was Caucasian, approximately 5 foot, 10 inches tall, and estimated to weigh around 150 to 162 pounds. Her age was estimated to be between 18 and 30 years old, and she had “a small birthmark or scar beneath her left breast.”
The female victim had three piercings in her right ear and two in her left ear. She wore a white t-shirt, a pair of acid-washed blue jeans, a black belt, white ankle socks, and white tennis shoes. She had a “gold-colored, chain type bracelet” on her right arm and her hair was in a ponytail.
During the ensuing homicide investigation, detectives made a series of fascinating discoveries. The woman had “apparently used several aliases throughout the years prior to her death.” Police were able to place her in several states throughout the preceding years: Dallas TX, Shreveport LA, and Little Rock, AR. And, most interestingly, several photographs were found in her motel room which showed that she had previously had bleach blonde dyed hair.
A bible was also found among her possessions which listed the following names: Willie James Stroud, Sharon Yvette Stroud, Ladonna Elaine Stroud, Johnny Lee Stroud, Viola Elizabeth Ross Stroud, Donna Jean Stroud, Bobbie Joan Stroud and Willie James Dantzler, Sr. These individuals were determined to be members of “a Black family in Irving, Texas” who El Dorado Jane lived with for a period of time in mid to late 1990. She told the Stroud Family that “she [was] a runaway from Louisiana, and [had] recently moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
El Dorado Jane Doe, as she affectionately became known later, had claimed variations and derivatives of the following names over the years: Kelly Lee Carr, Cheryl Ann Wick, Sharon Wiley, and Mercedes. Most recent to her death, El Dorado Jane Doe was working under the name Kelly Carr/Karr as a topless dancer in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, she told people that she was originally from Florida, though this has been unverified.
“She said that she used to be a stripper and was from out of town.
She told me her and her mother didn’t get along and that her momma was raising her two kids. I know she had said the one was a girl, but I can’t remember what she said the other one was.”
–Andrea Cooksey, A Friend/Roommate in June 1991
In May 1991, only two months before her death, El Dorado Jane Doe was arrested for writing bad checks. It is established that she “was frequently at the hospital emergency room from beatings,” and that, some time prior, she had worked as a prostitute in Dallas.
James maintains that El Dorado Jane, who he knew as Mercedes, shot herself with his gun during an intense argument. However, witness testimony from neighboring motel rooms, a history of violent altercations with the victim, and the fact that James immediately fled the scene with the gun, all suggest otherwise.
He also claims to have visited some of El Dorado Jane’s family members and to have known her actual identity. However, according to police, James said “he wouldn’t give them Mercedes’ true identity ‘unless [they] did something for him.” As recent as March 2016, James was offering to only “reveal Mercedes’ real identity if someone pays him $4,000.” However, authorities do not believe that James has much solid information to share.
The detective handling El Dorado Jane’s case commented:
“She may not have even divulged a whole lot of truths about herself to [James McAlphin]. I think she’s a runaway, and I think he’s a creature of habit, and if he knew who she was he’d tell to try to get out of something.”
The few details that James McAlphin has shared seem particularly fanciful and are uncorroborated. He alleges that, at age 16, El Dorado Jane was “taken from her loved ones by force” but that she continued her street lifestyle “willingly” as an adult. James also claims that El Dorado Jane was 26 years old around 1990, and offers a sordid history of how she had been pimped out as a prostitute for years, until he “took [her] and ran for Louisiana.”
Growing up as a prostitute, James says El Dorado Jane became close with three girls, known as the Missing Trio, who disappeared from Ft. Worth on December 23, 1974. He described the girls as being “like sisters” to El Dorado Jane Doe, and is insistent that “if you solve this cold case, you’ll find that you are also solving a couple more cold cases.” Of course, James is implying that this case, and others, will only ever be solved after he is paid $4,000 to share more details.
Eventually, James McAlphin pleaded “guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 15 years.”
If you would like to view photos of the deceased, they are available here via the Images link under Case Navigation. It is worth mentioning that postmortem photographs of El Dorado Jane Doe look strikingly different from the low-quality photographs of her while alive. Her skin appears to be a darker shade and she is heavily freckled.
If you recognize El Dorado Jane Doe, or have any information regarding her true identity, please contact Lt. Cathy Phillips at 870-881-4810. Anonymous tips can be submitted to El Dorado Crime Stoppers at 1-870-863-4636.
The Tattooed Doe
Des Moines, Iowa
On February 28, 1984, the sparse remains of an unidentified male were found “in brushy area along a dirt trail in Des Moines, Iowa.” Authorities believe that the “badly decomposed” body had been in the area for “some time,” and they described the remains as “mostly just bones and just a small patch of skin.” Interestingly, though, several unique tattoos were found on the remaining skin from his upper right torso and shoulder area.
The medical examiner calculated this Tattooed Doe’s age as between 28 to 48 years old, his weight to be around 150 pounds, and his height at approximately 5 feet, 7 inches. He had brown hair and had two surgical pins implanted in his right knee. He wore denim jeans (with a 31 inch waist and a 30-1/2 inch inseam), a brown leather belt, brown socks, and low-cut TRAX tennis shoes, which were brown suede and blue nylon.
The Tattooed Doe carried a “plastic comb, plastic Copenhagen brand snuff box, and a metal pocket knife.”
On the man’s top, right shoulder, a flying swallow was adorned with a banner reading MOTHER, and the word DAD at the top of its wing, perhaps, as a later addition or afterthought. A swallow tattoo is considered a “traditional old-school” tattoo common to sailors during World War I and II. It historically symbolizes hope, love, loyalty, and travel.
The man had a Nazi skeleton dressed as a soldier from the Sturmabteilung, “the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party” tattooed beneath the swallow. The Nazi stormtrooper was dressed in what appeared to be a black leather coat, somewhat reminiscent of a biker.
Possibly in reference to the Garden of Eden, another interesting portion of a tattoo was featured in the middle of the man’s chest, illustrating a spotted snake wrapped around a tree.
Other easily identifiable tattoos were recorded as well: a brunette wearing a sombrero that read JOHN, the splay-footed lower portion of a cartoon character, a smoking skull encompassed by the words BORN TO DIE. As shown above, several tattoos were recreated for public dissemination in hopes of identification.
According to reports, the area in which the Tattooed Doe was found is “so remote, meth producers often cook drugs there and car thieves will ditch stolen vehicles.” After thirty-three years, the John Doe has not yet been identified despite the available catalog of his extensive tattoo art, dental records, and fingerprints.
A number of missing men have been ruled out as matches to the deceased, including Johnny Gosch.
“It’s been very difficult in going back now with this particular person because we don’t have a missing person that we can match up to the body that was recovered or to the remains recovered… We don’t have any identification. Nothing. Very little in the way of identifying marks other than the tattoos.”
-Des Moines Police Sergeant Jeff Edwards
If you have any information regarding the identities of this John Doe, please contact the NamUs case manager, Megan Rausch, at 515-286-2102 or the Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office at 515-286-2102.
Jock Doe and Jane Doe
Sumter County, South Carolina
“Theories ran rampant: They were Canadians. They were from Argentina or another South American country. They were under a witness-protection program. They were drug-runners. It was a contract hit. Why?”
–Mystery of the Sumter County Does by Sara Marie Hogg
On August 9, 1975, the bodies of two unidentified homicide victims were found off of “a secluded dirt road between I-95 and S.C. 341″ in Sumter County, South Carolina. Known as The Sumter County Does, or Jock Doe and Jane Doe, they had both been shot three times, “receiving one shot in the throat, one in the chest, and one in the back.”
The female victim was estimated to have been around 18 to 25 years old. She was 5’5″ tall and weighed between 100-110 pounds. Sumter County Jane Doe is described as having an olive complexion, reddish-brown hair, and hazel eyes. She had fillings in all of her back teeth. The coroner determined that she had not given birth, and she had no scars on her body, although she is described as having two unique moles “on the left side of her face near her mouth.”
She was found wearing a white muslin blouse over a pink, front-tying halter top, and Daisy Duke cut-off jean shorts, with lavender and hot pink wedge-heeled sandals. Interestingly, Sumter County Jane Doe had unshaven legs and was not wearing underwear. She also wore three sterling silver rings, which “appeared to be authentic handmade Native American or Mexican costume jewelry.”
The male victim was originally estimated to be between 18 and 22 years of age; however, a forensic dentist later asserted that he was over 27 years old based on the development and condition of his teeth. He was just over 6-feet-tall and weighed around 150 pounds.
Sumter County Jock Doe had an olive complexion, brown eyes, dark hair, and thick eyebrows. He had “extensive, elaborate, dental work that may have been performed outside the United States” and a four-inch-long scar from an appendectomy. He also had various scars on his back and shoulders which appeared to be from contact sports.
Wearing Levi’s and a red, Coors t-shirt, Jock Doe also did not wear any underwear, and “carried a pack of ‘Grant’s Truck Stop’ matches” in his pocket. Grant’s Truck Stop had locations in “Idaho, Nebraska, and Arizona.” He also wore an expensive watch and a ring engraved with the initials JPF.
Though the pair resembled each other, and were initially thought to possibly be siblings, DNA testing in 2007 determined that they “were not genetically related.” Jock and Jane Doe were kept in airtight caskets with glass lids for over a year “in hopes that someone would identify them” before they were interred at a local cemetery in South Carolina.
Months after the murder, a campground employee contacted authorities and claimed to have known the male victim in Santee, South Carolina. He said the young man went by the name “Jock” (most likely spelled Jacques) and he had “stayed a few days at the campgrounds with his young female companion, then left for Florida.” On their way back up the east coast, the pair had stopped at the campground again.
The employee said that they had played pool together several times and Jock told him that “he was the son of a prominent doctor in Canada who had disowned him for giving up on his own career in medicine.” Jock allegedly claimed to be “taking a vacation of sorts, traveling the country aimlessly.”
However, no additional information or a recorded campground stay could be located, and this account produced no conclusive leads regarding their identities. Although, the JPF engraving on the male victim’s ring and the several indicators of wealth (extensive dental work, expensive jewelry) does corroborate this story to a certain extent.
“No drugs or alcohol were found on their bodies. They were not smokers.
And neither had on underwear.”
-From the Doe Network Circumstances of Discovery
In 1976, a truck driver named George Lonnie Henry was arrested in South Carolina for driving under the influence. A gun was found in George’s possession that was ultimately determined, through ballistics, to be the murder weapon used to kill the Sumter County Does. Allegedly, this gun had been stolen, subsequently purchased by George’s brother, and then gifted to George, who claimed to be at the hospital with his “ailing” wife during the murders.
Police could not reliably conclude the timeline surrounding the possession of the “.38-caliber Smith & Wesson.” When asked during a polygraph if he shot the couple, George’s denial of being the perpetrator was interpreted as truthful. However, police suspected him of deceptive responses to other questions and of withholding information in order to protect the potentially-responsible party.
Most theories feature the couple being foreigners from Canada or South America; however, this has been neither confirmed nor contradicted by DNA testing. It seems reasonable that the next step in identifying the Sumter County Does would be performing a forensic isotope analysis on their remains to determine their country of origin.
If you have any information regarding the identities of Jock or Jane Doe, or their 1975 murders, please contact the NamUs case manager, Randy McQueen, at 803-436-2050 or the Sumter County Coroner’s Office at 803-436-2111.