Florida Police Exhume Woman's Body After 45 Years to Help Crack Cold Case

Unidentified women's composite
Davie Police Department

It sounds like a scene straight out of the popular forensics crime drama, CSI. Florida police exhumed the body of an unidentified woman found dead floating in a canal 45 years ago using new DNA technology and the help of a forensic anthropologist to held crack the decades-long cold case.

The woman died two days before Christmas on December 23,1975. Her death had been deemed a homicide by the Broward Medical Examiner’s office, though how she died has never been determined. Neither has her identity, the Orlando Sentinel reported. 

On Tuesday, police from the Davie police department released a digital image of what the woman may have looked like in the hope that someone will remember her. Police also announced that scientists have completed a whole genome sequencing of the woman’s DNA, potentially opening up the possibility of finding relatives or more clues about who she was, the newspaper reported.

Analysis determined that the person was between 15 to 27 years old, of European or white ancestry, about 5-foot-5 and weighed 123 pounds. 

In December, the woman’s coffin was pulled from the vault at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Davie. Forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney carefully pulled DNA from the remains, the news outlet reported. 

Walsh-Haney told the Sun Sentinel that in spite of how old the case was, particularly since over time further decompensation takes place in a coffin as water seeps in, there were a few things that fared well for the case. Since the body was buried in body bags, the DNA was better preserved, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

Walsh-Haney is also the chairwoman of the Department of Justice Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, and works as a forensic anthropologist at 15 medical examiner’s office in the state, including Broward County. She explained that the composite with the women’s teeth showing is not often done and said that the women’s unique dental features may help family members recognize her, along with her clothing and accessories.

According to Walsh-Haney, such composites are not meant to be an exact likeness. “As you know, that is how individual cases are moved from unidentified to identified,” Walsh-Haney told the Sentinel. 

Anyone with information about the case can call Davie Police at 954-693-8200 or email DaviePDPIO@davie-fl.gov to reach the police department’s cold case unit.

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