by Silvia Pettem (posted December 13, 2009, updated May 22, 2010)
On July 29, 2009, after the first edition of Someone’s Daughter had already gone to press, I turned on my computer and opened an email titled “Katharine Farrand Dyer.” Signed by someone unknown to me, the message marked a turning-point in the fifty-five-year-old case:
You may need to be sitting down when you read this.
Katharine is in Australia; she is living in my house.
Luckily, I was sitting down. Was this a hoax, or was the woman I had searched for and taken into my heart actually alive? If so, then who was Jane Doe? I had a lot of questions.
After confirming that the email actually originated in Australia, I wrote back for an explanation. I learned that Joy, the writer, was a friend of, and caretaker for, an elderly woman she knew as “Barbara.” While packing the eighty-four-year-old woman’s possessions for a move to a nursing home, Joy came across an old-faded address book belonging to Katharine Farrand Dyer. Not familiar with the name, she Googled it and ended up on my website!
From the address book, Joy forwarded to me the names of family members. I found them in the 1930 census, then searched online for obituaries that led me to surviving siblings, including the name and address of a married sister living in Virginia.
When I telephoned the sister and told her about Jane Doe and my search for Katharine, she said she had no idea that her sister, who she called “Emily,” had ever been reported missing. The Virginia woman knew that Katharine/Emily had moved to Australia, but they had lost contact twelve years ago.
Was Katharine another Twylia—a woman who changed her name and started a new life far from home? It certainly looked that way to me. The sister in Virginia described Katharine as “adventuresome, with a love of horses and a yearning to live in the West.” She actually had adopted the name “Katharine” because some people said she looked like actress Katharine Hepburn.
Joy and I exchanged photographs and documents regarding Katharine’s identity—proof of a life postdating the discovery of Jane Doe’s corpse. Then I was filled in on the many gaps in Katharine’s story. When she left Denver, Katharine had skipped out on her divorce hearing (from her marriage with Jimmie Dyer) and was pregnant by another man. She lived for a while in California, where her only child, a little girl, was killed in a car accident. Afterward, Katharine moved to Hawaii. In 1963, she joined an “all-girl” crew on a yacht and sailed to Australia. Eventually, she remarried, but she and her husband, now deceased, had no children.
My fellow researchers and I had, on occasion, considered the possibility that the information Katharine provided on her marriage affidavit, in 1949, was false, and, indeed, it was. Not only was she born “Emily,” she was a year older than she had claimed, and she did not come from San Antonio, Texas. Instead, she was born and raised in Virginia. No wonder we could never find the family of “Katharine Farrand.” Her maiden name—as she had stated it—had never existed at all.
The connection between Katharine in the United States and Barbara in Australia was made through a handwritten address book and the Web—a testimony to both the preservation of primary-source documents and the power and intricacies of the Internet. The confirmation of Katharine’s identity left us without any viable alternative Jane Doe candidates, but the media spread the story worldwide. I was hopeful that this new publicity would generate new opportunities and move the case forward.
I also reflected on Marion McDowell—still missing from Toronto—and Twylia May Embrey, the runaway who fled rural Nebraska for a new life in Boston. Along with Katharine, the lives of these women had captivated me for years. How long would all of us in the Jane Doe search have to wait for the next compelling young woman to emerge? The answer came sooner than expected—in an email a few weeks later from Michelle Fowler, a twenty-four-year-old college student in Madison, Wisconsin.
At 9:25 in the evening on September 27, 2009, I was getting ready to turn off my computer when “I believe Jane Doe is my great-aunt” popped up on my computer screen. With a click on my touchpad, I read:
I have been searching for my great aunt, Dorothy Gay Howard, for the past year or so. I recently read that the woman who was believed to be Jane Doe was found in Australia, and [that] inspired me to revisit my search. About six months ago I emailed [Detective] Steve Ainsworth, but have never heard back. I was hoping you might be able to help.
Although I had been getting ready for bed, I suddenly was wide-awake. Eagerly I read the rest of the young woman’s message. Michelle told me that she had been researching online for a school paper and, like Katharine’s caretaker in Australia, stumbled upon my website. Michelle said her great-aunt Dorothy had disappeared from Phoenix, Arizona, in the fall of 1953, adding that all Michelle had to go on were the memories of the great-aunt’s only surviving sister, Marlene Howard Ashman, who was thirteen years old at the time.
Michelle and I exchanged several emails and, within minutes, we were talking on the telephone. I learned that Dorothy’s birth date was March 26, 1936, which meant that if she were Jane Doe, her murder would have occurred around the time of her eighteenth birthday. Michelle then filled me in on Dorothy’s physical description. When she told me that Dorothy was slender and petite, had no fillings in her teeth, and that she had had an appendectomy, I was incredulous.
“There’s something that just fits,” Michelle said, and I wholeheartedly agreed. Before turning off the computer for the night, I emailed Division Chief Phil West and Detective Ainsworth, telling them about the email and how important I believed it was to follow up on the lead immediately and to obtain a DNA sample from the surviving sister so that a comparison might be made.
A few days later, Marlene, who now lives in Polk County, Arkansas, went to her county courthouse where a law-enforcement official swabbed the inside of her cheek and sent a sample of her saliva to Detective Ainsworth. He forwarded it on to Mitotyping Technologies LLC, the private laboratory in Pennsylvania that, in 2005, had profiled the DNA from Jane Doe’s tooth. Dr. Terry Melton, CEO and president of the company, had graciously agreed to do any comparisons on our Jane Doe at no charge. Then, all we could do was wait—and the waiting was hard to do.
On Sunday October 18, 2009, I was interviewed about the Boulder Jane Doe case on a live Sunday morning Denver television talk show. Unable to contain my excitement, I told the interviewer that we had a new lead and should have the results any day.
And we would have, except that in the Mitotyping lab, the technician who tested the new sample gave a cursory glance at the raw data, and accidentally compared it with another known individual’s profile instead of with the profile developed from Jane Doe’s tooth. Thus, this first preliminary result did not appear to be a match. Several days went by before Dr. Melton herself sat down to edit the data. When she got the full profile, she was struck by the fact that it had a lot of differences from the standard profile used as a benchmark, and she remembered that Jane Doe’s profile also was distinct. She looked again and realized there was a match, after all.
“It’s always tempting to jump up, run around, and tell everyone you have a match in a specific case, but it’s better to sit quietly, check everything three or four times, edit the profile of the positive controls, check and recheck again,” she later told me. “Of course, in this case it was very straightforward as we had a full, good quality profile from each sample.”
Finally, after another twenty minutes or so, Dr. Melton was certain that the profiles were the same. She looked around to tell her technician, but the technician had left for a class. Dr. Melton then paced the floor and talked with other people in the office until the technician got back. “When I told her,” Dr. Melton reported, “she was stunned.”
I found out the next day, on Friday October 23.
In the late afternoon, I came home from Boulder, sat down in my living room recliner chair, and opened my laptop. Ignoring all other emails, I clicked on one from Marlene titled “Dorothy Gay Howard.”
“Just a quick note to let you know that I heard this afternoon that my DNA was a positive match of the Boulder Jane Doe,” she wrote. I literally jumped out of my chair and yelled downstairs to my husband Ed, “We found Jane Doe!”
I felt a huge sense of relief. All of the time and expense and years of searching, as well as the frustrating dead ends, had been worthwhile to finally reach the place in the investigation where the young woman’s death had some resolution. Ever since that first night that Michelle and I had talked on the telephone, I really had believed that Dorothy, or “Dot,” as the family called her, fit our profile of Jane Doe. At last the family, the forensic specialists, fellow researchers, and even my husband and I had closure. Along with the thousands of individuals who followed her story, we were part of her extended family. Mixed into my emotions, however, was profound sadness in recalling the tragedy of her murder. I felt as if I had just stepped off a roller coaster.
In Marlene’s email, she said I could call her, and I did. She told me she, too, was stunned, adding “You could have knocked me over with a feather!” Except for Dorothy’s great-niece, Michelle, who had initially contacted me, the surviving sister and her immediate family had always believed that Dorothy was alive. Suddenly, they had to cope with a death in the family.
In October 2009, a DNA comparison positively identified Dorothy Gay Howard of Phoenix, Arizona, as Boulder Jane Doe. Photo courtesy of Marlene Howard Ashman.
The next day I emailed Dr. Melton to thank her, and in her reply she wrote: “I have been thinking about you non-stop since yesterday and know you must be full of emotions. I’m so glad this is over. As exciting as it’s been for us we try to remember Jane Doe was a real person and her family has her back.”
“Of course it felt just fantastic to have that match,” Dr. Melton added at a later date. “It’s gratifying in this work to have answers that shut down avenues of speculation. A DNA match, when done under quality control standards, is so solid, so final—the last word.”
During the next few days, I learned that Michelle, the great-niece, had, for years, telephoned women named “Dorothy Howard,” just as Micki, Jennifer, and I had called every “Twylia” we could find in our search for Twylia May Embrey. Michelle had also seen—and seriously considered—the Doe Network listing of “Boulder Jane Doe,” prompting her initial email to Detective Ainsworth, but she told me again that it was not until she read the media accounts of Katharine Farrand Dyer showing up in Australia that she decided to contact me.
In the weeks that followed the identification of Jane Doe, I learned more about Dorothy’s family. I had always wondered about her parents and assumed they were no longer alive, and I was sorry to learn I was right. Roy E. Howard, Dorothy’s father, had died in 1985, at the age of seventy-three. Dorothy’s mother, Eunice G. Howard, died at the age of eighty-seven on Christmas Eve, 1994—less than two years before I first saw Jane Doe’s gravestone.
Even more startling was the fact that Dorothy’s aunt, Ola Mae Robinson, died in January 2007, in Amarillo, at the age of 103. This was just prior to my participation in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference in San Antonio. If only I could have known to have fit in a visit with Ola Mae, in the Texas Panhandle, as well.
Dorothy, I learned, was born in the Texas Panhandle. Even though she was reported missing from Phoenix, Arizona, she had spent her early childhood in Gray County, northeast of Amarillo. She was the first of the Howards’ daughters, followed two years later by Barbara (born in 1938 and now deceased) and Marlene (who gave the DNA sample), born in 1940.
I recalled that a newspaper article, following the coroner’s inquest in 1954, quoted a dentist who commented on the excellent condition of Jane Doe’s teeth. He indicated that she might have come from a community with a water supply that naturally contained fluorides. I was not surprised, therefore, to learn that a high fluoride content is a characteristic of the water in the Ogallala aquifer that underlies much of the Texas Panhandle. In fact, the town of Hereford, also near Amarillo, has been called “the town without a toothache,” ever since 1939 when a dentist commented on the extremely low level of tooth decay in the community.
In 1942, in search of more opportunities and a better life, Roy Howard moved his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he milked cows at a dairy. At the age of fifteen, in the ninth grade, Dorothy married a handsome military man, David G. Powell, but they divorced the following year. When she was seventeen, she married Kenneth Kirkman, an older man she met while working in Phoenix at the Strand Theater.
At some point, Dorothy left Phoenix, not telling her immediate family that she was leaving or where she was going. No one knows why the strong-willed teenager ended up in Colorado; she had previously run away—to Portland, Oregon—and was brought home by her father.
Several months—from the fall of 1953 to the spring of 1954—are unaccounted for in Dorothy’s life. Prior to March 1954, Dorothy may have taken a bus or hitchhiked to Denver, then the home of her aunt, Ola Mae. Dorothy had previously visited her aunt, and they shared what one of Dorothy’s cousins called “a cordial and fond connection.” Ola Mae lived in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood where Harvey Glatman had a history of assaulting women he followed off of buses.
The family has correspondence proving that Ola Mae knew Dorothy was missing, but the aunt was unaware that the young woman was headed her way, and Dorothy never reached Ola Mae’s doorstep. It is likely that Ola Mae read the front-page stories on the “girl found slain near Boulder” in her Denver newspapers, but she would not have had any indication that the news reports concerned Dorothy.
On April 19, 1954, three days prior to the funeral for the “mystery girl” in Boulder’s Columbia Cemetery, Ola Mae wrote a letter—still in the family’s possession—to Dorothy’s mother Eunice. In it, the aunt stated that she believed Dorothy would “finally wake up and let you know where she is.” Ola Mae continued: “She isn’t a bad girl; she has been impressed by the wrong people, I feel sure. She is just a mixed up teenager, of which the world is full of them.”
Could Harvey Glatman, as speculated for some time, have been Dorothy’s killer? Their paths could easily have crossed in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver where Glatman might have offered to hire the pretty young woman as a model and lured her into his car. If so, he likely drove her into the mountains—with her wrists tied—with the similar modus operandi that he later displayed while driving his California victims for hours into remote areas of the desert.
Glatman had the motive (sexual assault), the opportunity (Capitol Hill neighborhood), and the means (his own car) to commit murder, although there is no record that he—prior to 1954—had done so. What makes him a strong suspect, however, is that the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that the ligature marks shown in the victim’s morgue photographs are strikingly similar to the marks left on the three corpses of the women he later murdered in California.
In 1958, when Glatman confessed to the California murders, he stated that he made sure his victims’ wrists were tied securely when he stopped for gas, because he was afraid they would escape from his car. What had made him so concerned? Was it his experience with Jane Doe, now identified as Dorothy? His fears eventually came true when his last victim, Lorraine Vigil, managed to flee his car during an assault and then, miraculously, flagged down a passing patrolman, leading to Glatman’s arrest.
The “bumper theory,” first expressed by Dr. Robert Goldberg and then embraced by his colleagues and the officials in the Sheriff’s Office, is based on the premise that Dorothy had escaped from—but was run down and hit by—her abductor’s car, likely Glatman’s 1951 Dodge Coronet. Her skeletal injuries conformed closely with the bumper and other parts of a similar vehicle. When Glatman was arrested in California and asked if the women he hired in Denver were still alive, he gave this curiously worded answer—“Unless they’ve been run over.”
Even the original pathologist, quoted in Inside Detective magazine, speculated that Jane Doe might have been hit by a car. The scenario is valid, and the case may, one day, be cleared if any other potential murder suspects can be ruled out and if the Boulder District Attorney accepts the Sheriff’s Office’s circumstantial case against Glatman.
In California, Glatman strangled his victims, but with Dorothy—if, indeed, he was her murderer—he never had that opportunity.
In the intervening years, Dorothy’s family always hoped she would eventually come home. “Her disappearance was an unspoken tragedy in the family,” a cousin recently told me. “They dealt with anger, sadness, and then a hopelessness bordering on despair.”
Of great comfort to the family today, however, is the knowledge that Dorothy received the Christian burial insisted on by the Boulder community in 1954. Complete strangers, as well as others who have followed the Jane Doe saga for years, contributed to a new headstone with Dorothy Gay Howard’s name on it at last. From the family came gratitude, including a letter from Dorothy’s nephew, a U.S. Department of Defense contract firefighter in Iraq, who ended his sentiments with the Benediction:
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.