MARION COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - A cold case in Marion County, linked to confessed serial killer Shawn Grate, may be closer than ever to being solved. The DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization that works to identify unidentified people and reunite families, has taken on the case.
They're working to give a name to an unidentified young woman, discovered alongside a road in rural Marion County in 2007. The body had no identification, but scientists said she was between 15 and 24 years old, likely with brown or blonde hair, and she appeared to be in good health, with nearly perfect teeth.
In 2016, Grate, then in custody for multiple murders in and around Ashland County, confessed to killing Marion County’s Jane Doe. He told investigators he did not know her name, but he believed it started with a ‘D,’ possibly “Dana” or “Diana.”
According to Grate, the woman was a door-to-door magazine saleswoman. He told police he believed she had cheated his mother out of money, so he lured her into a vehicle, then took her to his home under the premise of buying magazines from her.
He then stabbed her to death, he said, and kept her in the house for two days before disposing of her body near Victory Road in Grand Prairie Township.
The combination of the name “Dana” and the road where Jane Doe was found (Victory) led to her nickname, Vicky Dana Jane Doe. That’s how she’s listed in the files of the DNA Doe Project.
Amanda Reno, team leader for this case, says DNA Doe Project uses modern DNA technology to try to identify family members of the unidentified person, sifting through databases to find a connection.
“I can’t get into specifics on the case, but what I can say is there were promising matches that were found initially when we did the upload,” said Reno “Our team is doing a fantastic job at piecing those things together and we really hope to see this case be successful soon.”
The organization, staffed entirely by volunteers, was founded in 2017. It gets its cases largely from law enforcement who need help identifying people, often after years of investigation. They've had success across the country, including in Ohio. Last year, the DNA Doe Project identified the "Buckskin Girl," a murder victim found in Miami County in 1981. Her real name was Marcia King.
"The moment that we get to give a doe their name back is very special to us," said Amanda Reno. "Our team is very invested in all these does that come our way."
DNA Doe Project uses the site GEDmatch to find familial matches. The site recently changed its rules, and it now requires people who have previously uploaded their DNA to “opt in” again, allowing the team at DNA Doe Project to continue making genetic matches.
Reno says it's important to take that step if you do want your DNA to help make the connection to unidentified people.
To do this: first log in. Then select the pencil icon beside the key network. Select “public,” with law enforcement access, then “opt-in.”
To find out more about DNA Doe Project, or to make a donation to aid their testing efforts, click here.