The sun was rapidly vanishing behind the row of pines at the rear of the Laurytown Road Cemetery. It was already later than planned, but I convinced myself to take a “little detour” from Interstate 80 to search out the cemetery to pay my respects to the two unidentified victims of a brutal, unsolved murder that took place in December 1976. Finding no obvious parking as the sun disappeared, I pulled to the edge of the back road and turned the hazard lights on. Stepping out of the vehicle, I took in the cool evening air and the sound of crickets mixed with the soft whisper of the wind. With very little light left, I debated on what to do next.
The cemetery is hidden along the narrow back roads of Carbon County in a field surrounded by the pines of a Christmas tree farm. While I was preparing for a visit, I really was not sure I was going to easily locate the cemetery, but on the road between Weatherly and White Haven, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, I found the quiet piece of sacred land. At one time this piece of land was referred to as the Carbon County Potter’s Field, but many modern sources give it the name Laurytown Road Cemetery in an attempt to erase the negative connotation of a “Potter’s Field.”
At the front of the cemetery stands a memorial dedicated to those veterans who served over the years. A row of oak trees divides the field into two portions and, on this trip, the grass was knee-high and really needed to be mowed. Protruding from the sea of green were numerous white crosses. Some of them have simple name plaques attached to them and a handful have small, simple stones on the on the ground in front of the crosses. A handful of tombstones do exist in the cemetery, but the vast majority of the graves are marked with the simple, white crosses. Note: I do want to say that only on the first visit was the cemetery in need of a mowing. Every other trip found the sacred grounds mowed and well-kept.
After debating a couple of minutes, I violated my one of my own rules and set out to find the graves I sought. Having come this far, I wasn’t about to let the moment go by; if I did not find her before the sun completely disappeared, then I would give up my search and return another day. Moving quickly through the grass, I somehow managed to find the wooden cross that marks the grave of Beth Doe and her baby in a matter of minutes and as the stars began to blanket the sky, I stood silently, paying my respects to them.
The sad story of Beth Doe begins on December 20, 1976. On that cold day, a fourteen-year-old boy playing along the Lehigh River near White Haven came across three suitcases along the frozen Lehigh River. The three suitcases were tossed from the westbound bridge of Interstate 80, which spanned the gorge over three hundred feet above the river. All three missed the river: one landed on the frozen river bank and two others in the nearby woods. Approaching them, he was shocked to discover that two of the suitcases had broken open, revealing the remains of a body.
It would later be determined that the suitcases, which were tossed from the westbound bridge, held two bodies. The first body belonged to a female who is believed to be between the age of 17 and 21. When alive, the unidentified lady was approximately five-foot -four inches tall, weighed around one hundred and fifty pounds and had brown hair. The official cause of death was strangulation. before being dismembered; her ears and nose had been removed by the killer(s) and were never located. Note: Beth Doe had also been shot. I believe it was before she was strangled, but it has never been made clear when this wound happened.
It was determined that the brutal slaying of the young woman had occurred less than twenty-four hours before her lifeless body had been discovered. The second body discovered in the suitcases belonged to her unborn baby. The unidentified lady had been nine months pregnant when she was butchered and her baby, had it been born, would have been a little girl.
Police had very little to go on in attempt to identify Beth Doe or her killer(s). The remains were wrapped in a chenille bedspread that appeared to have originally been pink in color with embroidered yellow flowers. After wrapping the body parts up, they were stuffed into three similar suitcases. Also discovered in the suitcases was The New York Times from September 26, 1976, along with bits of hay and foam packing.
One possible clue that possibly may lead to her identity, or that of her killer(s), is a group of numbers and letters police found written in ink on the palm of her left hand. There have been many interpretations of what is written, but it is known that the three letters are “WSR.” Next to that is either a “4 or a 5” and below that and slightly to the right is either a “4 or a 7.” Over the years, both license plates and CB handles have been explored as a meaning for the string of letters and numbers, but their significance has never been determined.
One possibility to the girl’s identity that has been put forth is she was Sheryl Ann Tillinghast, a native of the Buffalo, New York area, who disappeared from the Wassaic State School (a reform school) where she worked. Sheryl disappeared in September of 1973, leaving behind two of her paychecks. Sheryl has been ruled out as being Beth Doe, but I have to admit that some of the pictures online of Sheryl look very similar to the composites of Beth Doe.
Advances in technology have allowed for the identification of isotopes in Beth Doe’s body and while the testing is not an exact science, it does give a possible clue from where she might have lived. It is believed that she was born in Western or Central Europe and spent her childhood in the southeastern United States. It is believed she had lived in the United States for five to ten years before her death and possibly she had lived in Eastern Tennessee. The testing did rule out the possibility of the victim being a local resident. Fetal analysis suggests she was still in the southeastern United States until shortly before the brutal murder.
In October 2007, the bodies were exhumed and tissue samples was taken and a DNA profile was created. The unknown woman was reburied in a coffin she shares with her unborn baby. As of this time, no matches have been found.
Her identity may currently be a mystery, but it is known she was short in stature with an estimated height between four feet eleven inches and five feet four inches. She had dark, shoulder-length brown hair, brown eyes and weighed between 130 and 150 pounds at the time of her death. Beth Doe suffered from severe tooth decay to the point she had to have been suffering from the pain. She was in the ninth month of her pregnancy when she was murdered.
Two simple white crosses with small plaques identifying them as “Beth Doe” and “Baby Jane Doe” mark their burial location. On the ground in front of each cross is a small granite marker with the same names carved in them. Baby Jane’s grave has a number of toys placed on and around it from others who have paused to remember the unidentified victims.
No words came to mind as I stood there with countless questions running through my mind. How could someone do this to another person? How could a human be so cold-hearted as to murder a mother and her unborn child? Why hasn’t someone missed her? Though it has been decades ago, I can’t imagine that somebody out there isn’t missing her each and every day. I personally can’t imagine living each day not knowing what happened to my loved one if they had disappeared out of my life. Yet Beth Doe and her baby remain nameless after all these years.
I said a quick prayer before leaving them to rest under the blanket of stars. I slowly made my way back to the vehicle and headed home, knowing the answer is out there and praying one day she will be identified and her killer(s) caught.