Pausing at the vehicle I listened as Rauchtown Run bubbled and babbled nearby. The quiet, peaceful scene was broken only by the occasional vehicle that passed on nearby Route 880. Ravensburg State Park is a mere seventy-eight acres, surrounded by the Tiadaghton State Forest and retains a remote feeling though it is only a couple miles from Interstate 80. Being the only one at the park made it feel more remote and wild than it really was, but I was at ease with the feeling.
Though I had stopped here in the past, my current visit was to remember the Ravensburg Jane Doe and as I stood there I had to wonder why the murder of the unidentified young woman was never solved. The case that grabbed the headlines at the moment had quickly faded away from the newspapers of the time and the memories of citizens. The newspapers of the time had thought that it would be solved immediately, yet within two weeks it had not and soon the files were covered in dust and the case was forgotten.
So what happened that caused her case to vanish into history? First there were two major national events were happening at the time: The Scopes Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) and the death of orator and politician, William Jennings Bryan. These two events grabbed the headlines of newspapers across the nation and local events were pushed aside and forgotten about.
More than that, there are a number of questions that arise when examining the investigation that helps explain why the case was not solved. Note: Before I go any further, I feel I need to explain that I am not condemning the investigators, but there are some areas in the investigation where they seem to have faltered.
The Jersey Shore Theory: From the beginning the main focus of the investigation concentrated on the victim being from Jersey Shore with the murder possibly happening there. After the second day, Grace Herman had been eliminated as a possibility for the identity of the Ravensburg Jane Doe and it appears she was never seriously investigated again. The third day of the investigation saw authorities focusing on the community of Jersey Shore with the belief the victim was from Jersey Shore.
The reason that the focus shifted to Jersey Shore was due to a resident having heard a man and woman arguing and a short time later heard what sounded like a gunshot. Supposedly the same witness saw a vehicle with a carpet rolled up and tied to the running board with feet sticking out of the rolled up carpet. The vehicle was headed toward Antes Gap. Although authorities did not believe that the witness saw human feet sticking out of a carpet, the theory was enough to make authorities consider Jersey Shore as the location of the death.
Even after it was discovered that Grace was not in New Jersey and her father did not exactly know where she was (he thought it may be possible she was currently in Syracuse, New York), the focus of the investigation never returned to Grace being a possibility for the Ravensburg Jane Doe. Even if Ravensburg Jane Doe was not Grace, other theories that were presented were pushed aside as authorities continued to place resources as connecting the victim with Jersey Shore.
The missed evidence: The initial investigation discovered little to no evidence at the scene and from all newspaper reports, it appears that authorities did little to investigate the area of the crime after the initial sweep. The first newspaper articles state that nothing was found at the scene, yet over the next four weeks possible evidence missed by investigators was discovered by individuals in the area of the crime. Some of the things recovered by individuals and turned over to the investigators included: a jet pendant with brass ornaments found where the body had been and a woman’s coat with bullet holes in it lying in a nearby ditch.
Despite the discovery of the pendant and coat (which both seem to have disappeared from the case – I have not been able to find other references to them outside the mention that they were turned over to the police), the investigators seemed most interested in a copy of The Williamsport Sun that was found folded up tightly and placed between two rocks near the crime scene. The newspaper was dated July 15, 1921 and had stains that “look like those made by blood.” Investigators believed that the newspaper had a “connection with the case” and was “a possible means of establishing the identity of the woman.” The newspaper itself was originally missed by investigators and had been delivered to them two weeks after Ravensburg Jane Doe was discovered. The newspaper was determined to not have relevance to the case, but the focus on it lasted almost a full week before being discarded.
Another piece of evidence that is alluded to in the newspapers has having great importance in the case was a pointed stone found on top of a stump near where the body was discovered. Authorities believed that the stone was used to mark the location of the body, though why they believed this was never made clear. The stone, which seems to have held great importance at first, quickly vanishes from the news.
Time of Death: The initial reports by Coroner Bailey state that she had been killed roughly six weeks prior to being discovered. The Lock Haven Express sticks with the report given by Coroner Bailey, but there is mention in a number of articles that investigators believe Ravensburg Jane Doe had been dead only two to three weeks.
Note: Before I continue I need to say I am not a ballistics expert, so this is my opinion about the murder weapon. With that being stated…
The murder weapon: The actual cause of death of the Ravensburg Jane Doe was never revealed in any of the newspaper articles about the case. Authorities investing the murder believe that the holes in the skull were bullet holes. Coroner Bailey stated that he believed that the unidentified woman had been shot in the head three times. District Attorney Hollis seemed convinced that the murder weapon must be a gun and the holes had to be caused by bullets. Authorities appear convinced of the three holes in the skull being bullet holes, not because they found evidence of it, but due to the testimony of witnesses in Jersey Shore hearing two people arguing and shots being fired.
I do not believe the death of Ravensburg Jane Doe was due to being shot. She was murdered, yes, but there is something in the July 16 Express article that casts doubt in the cause of death. The article lists the holes as being “two on top of the head and one on the side” with “all three practically on a line from ear to ear over the top of the skull.” The location of the holes is odd and it seems a strange spot to shoot someone.
If she had been shot three times in the head, then where were the exit wounds? If there were no exit wounds, then where were the bullets? The missing bullets were explained away with the idea that the murder happened somewhere else. But the physical evidence of not having exit wounds cannot be as easily explained, though there is a possible scenario that would explain the lack of exit wounds. After discussing this case with a number of people, the idea that all three bullets exited Ravensburg Jane Doe through the mouth, which explains the teeth that were described as being knocked out.
While I cannot rule out the possibility that cause of death was from being shot in the head, despite the oddness of shooting the victim on top of the head, there is another possibility in the cause of her death. There is a possibility that she was not shot at all. I personally have not found another case where the victim was shot on the top of the head. I found the back of the head, the front of the head, the side of the head, but the top of the head is a strange location to be shot. The location of the holes would suggest that she was struck on the head by something, maybe with a small hammer or similar object. The first strikes on top of the head would have dropped her and another on the side to make sure she was dead. Another blow to the mouth would have knocked out her teeth or they may have been knocked out as she fell from the blows.
This makes more sense than the being shot scenario and explains why no bullets were found and the lack of exit wounds. Again, please note: this is my opinion on the cause of death and until I have something that otherwise proves the cause, I have to question this explanation, but the official cause of death is “believed to have been shot.”
As I stood there, I realized that the possibility of ever truly identifying Ravensburg Jane Doe is nearly impossible. Her identity has been lost to history and her case mostly forgotten. The information that is available raises too many questions that are not answered and honestly may never be answered.
What is known is that the Ravensburg Jane Doe:
Was discovered July 15, 1925
Believed to have been killed roughly six weeks prior to discovery
Believed to have been between 20 and 40 years old
Stood roughly five foot tall
She had chestnut brown hair
She had gold teeth in her lower jaw
Was discovered wearing a blue dress with a red slip