Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Cyber sleuth

Brian Gray's fascinating full-page Sun piece Monday on amateur cyber sleuths solving missing persons and Doe cases revives hope that the baffling 1975 Nation River Lady case can be solved.

Brian's story focused on Jason, a 28-year-old Toronto volunteer cyber sleuth and part of a growing, world-wide amateur detective movement, who helped link a New York State family to a man found dead in Toronto in 1993.

The family of Russell Pensyl now know his fate, thanks to someone who cares.

We've never met Brian, but we like his style. Short, snappy tabloid leads and stories like this one that helped the Toronto Sun stand apart from the broadsheets in the '70s and '80s.

The Nation River Lady was the subject of one of those stories. The naked body of this Jane Doe, ankles and wrists bound with men's neckties, was found by a farmer face down in the slow-moving Nation River near Ottawa on May 3, 1975.

Long Sault OPP said she had been strangled with television coaxial cable and her body tossed into the river from a bridge on Highway 417. It was found downstream near Casselman. Although nude, she had not been sexually assaulted.

She was 25 to 50, with "typically Nordic" features, had web feet, partial dentures. A 1987 Toronto Star story by Cal Millar and Gwyn "Jocko" Thomas said she had never given birth, had an appendix scar, her shoulder-length hair, originally dark brown, was dyed reddish-blond and she was probably blue-eyed.

Police were hopeful they would quickly identify the attractive, 5-foot-3, 100-pound woman, but footwork in North America and extensive Interpol missing persons probes in Scandinavian countries proved fruitless.

Her body was kept in a Toronto morgue body storage freezer and might still be there if not for an electrical fire late in 1986. In January 1987, she was buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

(An updated sketch of the woman shown above was released by the OPP with renewed hopes of someone identifying her, but nothing new came to light. America's Most Wanted TV program was advised of the mystery woman, but her case has not been profiled.)

As this blogger wrote in a 20th anniversary update for an issue of the short-lived PublicEYE tabloid: "She is somebody nobody knows."

As the 33rd anniversary of the discovery of her body approaches, it still applies and that is a crime. There has been no justice for the Nation River Lady. Her family and friends do not know her fate and the killer(s) have not been caught.

If we are indeed a global village, cyber sleuth websites mentioned in Brian Gray's story can only help reduce the number of Jane and John Does being buried without family and friends to mourn.

TSF has e-mailed links to Brian's story and TSF's update to www.doenetwork.org, a database of missing persons and unidentified bodies in North America, Europe and Australia.

If you want to read dozens of newspaper stories about Doe cold cases being solved decades later, check out the web site's News Center. It is remarkable testimony to the determination of police and the public to let no body go unnamed.

The News Center stories include a 2002 feature about the Doe Network, written by the Sun's Michele Mandel.

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