Unsolved: Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973

Location where the unidentified lady was discovered. Photo: Standard Speaker (Hazleton, Pa) August 10, 1973

Note: Before I start, I want to clarify the name of this Jane Doe. In most places she is merely noted as Luzerne County Jane Doe. I have added the year 1973 to her name for two reasons: 1) her remains were discovered that year and 2) she is not the only Jane Doe that has been discovered in Luzerne County.

Sometimes an unsolved murder takes the strange step from the real world and moves into the realms of folklore. I’ve already covered a few cases in which the facts of an unsolved murder have been obscured by the legends which have grown over the years about the murder. Two of those unsolved murders which have become the basis of ghost stories are Adeline Baver and Josiah Dale, both of which are more noted for the hauntings associated with their murders than the murder itself. Note: More about these two murders can be found here: Adeline Baver and Josiah Dale.

It was a ghost story that introduced me to the unsolved murder of Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973.

I had spent the day in the Poconos with Rob, an elderly gentleman who was serving as my co-pilot and tour guide on this trip. Rob had grown up in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley and his stories and memories presented a unique opportunity to hear the history of the region told through his eyes. The day passed quickly and we were soon headed westward on Interstate 80 toward home.

We passed exit 256 which is for Nescopeck and Conyngham, and descended the mountain west of the exit toward Nescopeck Creek. In the area of mile marker 250, a large open area next to the interstate appeared on my right.

“You know this stretch of interstate is haunted?” Rob asked as we passed the location, crossed Nescopeck Creek and began to ascend the next hill.

“No,” I replied. “I had not heard that.”

“Supposedly a young female has been spotted walking along the interstate before vanishing.” Rob paused for a moment. “It may be related to the body of a brutally murdered young lady who was dumped there.”

“When did that happen?” I asked curiously. At the time, I had not heard about the murder nor the ghost story.

“Back in the late 60s or early 70s,” Rob replied. At the time, Rob was not able to give a lot of information about the unsolved murder or the ghost story he had heard – he remembered hearing the story from a co-worker many years before. If his co-worker provided any information when he mentioned the ghost story to Rob, it had been forgotten over the years.

When I started browsing through the regional newspapers, I quickly discovered details about the unsolved death of an African-American woman in the summer of 1973 on that lonely stretch of Interstate 80. Unfortunately, not only is her murder unsolved, her identity remains a mystery. Even sadder is her case barely made the newspapers at the time and what little was revealed to the public was quickly forgotten.

Around ten on the morning of August 9, 1973, a tourist pulled to the edge of Interstate 80 at the large, cleared area north of the westbound lanes overlooking Nescopeck Creek in Black Creek Township, Luzerne County, to stretch and take a break from driving. Stepping out of his vehicle he took a walk in the nearby woods. Roughly one hundred feet from the interstate, he discovered the lifeless body wrapped in a blanket.

Authorities determined the body was that of an African-American female who had been deceased for 48 to 72 hours before being discovered. The age of the victim was never narrowed down and she was originally believed to be between 21 and 30 years old, but since the horrific discovery, the victim’s age has been expanded to be anywhere from 18 to 40 years old. She stood around five feet tall and weighed approximately 100 pounds. She had brown eyes, dark brown hair pulled back into a short ponytail, and had a partial upper plate containing six teeth.

The remains of the unidentified lady were examined by Dr. George Hudock, the Luzerne County coroner, who determined that the victim’s x-rays showed no internal trauma or injuries. If an official cause of death was determined, it never made the newspapers. The unidentified woman was placed to rest in an unmarked grave in Maple Hill Cemetery, Hanover Township, Luzerne County

Local authorities immediately sent a description of the unidentified lady to surrounding states, but no one matching her description had been reported missing. With little to go on and no leads, Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973’s case went cold after three months.

Using the information found in the press release from 2016 – found at PA Crime Stoppers – the body was doused in sulfuric acid. This is something that did not appear in any of the initial newspaper articles, so when this was revealed is unclear. This piece of information may have been initially withheld from the public in case somebody stepped forward with information about the unknown lady’s death.

Something that barely made the newspapers at the time of the discovery was the victim’s clothing. The newspapers merely said she wore a blouse, shorts and slippers. Details about her clothing would not be released until years later, when it was revealed she was wearing a pink blouse with white lace, blue-green shorts, and blue bedroom slippers with a floral design on their tops. If a description of the clothing had initially been released, it may have stirred someone’s memory if they had spotted her while she was yet alive.

A piece of information that is unclear and has changed over the years is the color of the blanket the unidentified lady was wrapped in. All newspaper accounts at the time of the discovery state the blanket was white; however, many later reports state this blanket was yellow and green. Note: While this change in color may seem minor, I’m not sure why or when it changed and which coloration is correct.

Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973 remained in an unmarked grave within the boundaries of Maple Hill Cemetery until 2016 when her grave was disturbed for the first time since her burial. On September 26, 2016, she was one of three unidentified victims buried in the sacred grounds whose body was exhumed for DNA testing. Note: I’m not sure if DNA was recovered or not – I could not find a definite answer.

The question remains: “Who was Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973?”

While the initial reports stated 21 to 30 years of age, there is an interesting statement in the August 10, 1973 edition of the Standard Speaker (Hazleton, Pa), which makes me believe she may have been younger. According to the article “Body of Woman Found at Tank,” police officers were checking schools for missing girls, which implies they thought she may have been younger. I believe this line of thought stems from her small stature.

In this same article, it is stated that state police had taken fingerprints from the deceased. This is something that is never mentioned again. Does the fingerprint card still exist? Was it lost? Were the fingerprints damaged and could not be used?

Where was Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973 from? With the body of the unidentified woman being found along the westbound lanes of Interstate 80, it would suggest she was from New York or New Jersey or some point east of the location she was discovered. Yet, it is very possible she could have been from Scranton or Philadelphia or from some place west of the location where she was discovered.

In the years since her death, there are more questions than answers. But what is known about Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973 is: she was African American between the ages of 18 and 40. She was five foot tall, weighed roughly 100 pounds, and had her hair pulled into a short ponytail. She had a partial upper plate with six teeth and brown eyes.

The unknown lady may not have her name yet, but hopefully one day she will be remembered by her name and not merely as a Jane Doe.

One thought on “Unsolved: Luzerne County Jane Doe 1973

  1. The fact that she had a dental plate suggests to me that her family was probably middle class, as I don’t think poor African-Americans in that era had access to much dental care. But if her family was middle class, she should have been reported missing. Two conflicting pieces of information; life does not always go as it might be expected to go, and neither does death!


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