Every year, there are numerous men and women who are found deceased and remain unidentified, so they simply become known as John or Jane Doe. In the past, the odds of being able to uncover their identities were not good. Thankfully, within the past few decades, we have seen remarkable advances in forensic science and DNA technology, so identifying these victims is no longer impossible.
These advances have allowed for the closure of several cold cases involving unidentified decedents. In fact, some of those cases have been featured right here on Listverse. Even if the victim had been deceased for several decades, DNA testing allowed for their positive identification. Here are some more cases where a John or Jane Doe remained unidentified for years until dedicated sleuths helped them get their names back.
10 Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor, ‘Tent Girl’
On May 17, 1968, a well digger named Wilbur Riddle was walking down a dirt road near Route 25 just outside Lexington, Kentucky. He came across a large green tarpaulin normally used for transporting carnival tents. It turned out that the nude, decomposing body of a young woman was wrapped up inside. She appeared to be in her twenties and had been dead for months. Her exact cause of death could not be determined, but it was theorized that she was knocked unconscious and died of suffocation after being wrapped in the tarpaulin. The victim could not be identified and became known as “Tent Girl.”
Decades later, Wilbur Riddle’s son-in-law, Todd Matthews, become obsessed with uncovering Tent Girl’s identity. He created a website devoted to the case, and eventually, he came across a classified ad from a woman who was searching for her missing sister, Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor. At age 24, Barbara had mysteriously disappeared from Lexington in December 1967. Matthews thought she bore striking similarities to Tent Girl and arranged to have the unidentified woman’s body exhumed. In April 1998, DNA testing determined that Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor and Tent Girl were the same person.
The exact circumstances of Barbara’s death are still unknown, but the prime suspect was her husband, George Earl Taylor, who happened to be a carnival worker. He never filed a missing persons report and told Barbara’s family that she had left him for another man. However, George took all of his secrets to the grave when he died of cancer in October 1987. Todd Matthews has since gone on to found the Doe Network, an online database containing thousands of profiles for unidentified decedents.