HENDERSON, Nev. — Nevada cold case investigators have spent the past 41 years trying to identify a girl found beaten and stabbed to death in 1980, and to identify the person responsible for her death.
Henderson police officials announced Thursday that they are halfway there.
The girl has been identified through DNA and genetic genealogy as Tammy Corrine Terrell, 17, of Artesia, New Mexico. Before the positive identification, Terrell was known only as “Jane Arroyo Grande Doe” based on where her body was found.
Cold case investigators worked with genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter, who is best known for her work identifying the notorious Golden State Killer in 2018. Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., who killed at least 13 people and raped more than 50 women in the 1970s and 1980s, is serving life in prison.
Henderson police Capt. Jonathan Boucher said at a news conference last week that genetic genealogy led directly to Terrell’s family.
“Through this lengthy process, we located two of Tammy’s sisters who were able to confirm her identity when they supplied us with DNA,” Boucher said. “Tammy’s sisters, I will tell you, were tremendously grateful to finally know what happened to their sister 41 years ago.”
Boucher said detectives’ work is not complete.
“Now, we’re only halfway there,” Boucher said. “Now, the pursuit of Tammy’s killer or killers begins.”
Watch Thursday’s news conference below, courtesy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
According to authorities, Terrell was last seen alive in Roswell, where she was staying at Assurance Home. The group home, which was established the year before she disappeared, provides a safe environment to troubled teens, according to its website.
KRQE in Albuquerque reported that Terrell and another girl were dropped off the night of Sept. 28, 1980, at the New Mexico Fairgrounds, where the Roswell State Fair was being held. When an Assurance staff member returned to pick the girls up, Terrell was nowhere to be found.
The group home reported her missing the next day, according to Roswell police officials.
Terrell was last spotted at a Roswell Denny’s, in the company of an unidentified couple. Authorities believed they were possibly planning to head to California.
The teen’s nude body was instead found the night of Oct. 5, 1980, more than 750 miles away in Henderson. She was spotted by a pair of brothers, one of whom was an off-duty police officer, along a dirt road near the Arroyo Grande wash, just south of Route 146 in Henderson.
More than four decades later, Interstate 215 runs through the area where Terrell was found. Authorities determined that she died just a few hours before her body was discovered.
Listen to Terrell’s sister discuss the case below, courtesy of Fox 5 in Las Vegas.
John Williams remembers the day he and his brother found Terrell. Then a Henderson patrol officer, he moved up in the department over the years to become a detective.
Williams ultimately became the lead investigator on the cold case and continued to work on it even after his 2006 retirement.
“Nothing was incorporated out there at the time,” Williams told KSNV in Las Vegas in 2015, the 35th anniversary of the teen’s death. “She was laying there, posed, basically, and nude.
“She had been struck numerous times in the face, apparently with fists. And then in the back of the head with what appeared to be a roofing or framing hammer. And then stabbed with a two-pronged instrument in the back.”
The body of the redhead, who was estimated to be between 14 and 20 years old, appeared to have been washed before it was dumped in the arroyo, according to the Doe Network.
Listen to an “Unsolved Mysteries” podcast about the case below.
“Since the incident, Tammy had only been known as ‘Jane Arroyo Grande Doe,’ as all attempts to identify her to this point had been unsuccessful,” police officials said in a news release.
Williams paid for the teen’s burial plot and marker, and he and his wife often lay flowers at her grave.
“We come down all the time and put flowers. Just so that she has someone that cares about her,” Williams said. “She’s like family to me.”
Efforts to solve the case were slow-moving through the years. Former Clark County coroner Mike Murphy, who later went on to work for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, implemented a policy in 2004 of putting some of the less graphic images of the county’s unknown dead online.
The Arroyo Grande Jane Doe, whose facial bruises were doctored out of the photo, was one of them.
Photos of a small amateur tattoo, of the letter “S” on the inside of her right forearm, were also made public. The teen’s fingerprints and dental records were uploaded into national databases, and several composite drawings were created, the most recent by the NCMEC in 2015.
That same year, Detective Joseph Ebert took the lead in the case, working with the retired Williams to bring closure to the girl’s family and to find her killer or killers.
“The amount of work Joe has put in is just astonishing,” Boucher said Thursday. “Their efforts have finally paid off.”
Her body was exhumed multiple times to obtain her DNA, which was uploaded into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. In September, the revamped “Unsolved Mysteries” featured the unsolved case on its podcast.
None of the efforts paid off until earlier this year, when investigators began using genealogy to find Terrell’s family.
Murphy, who was by then with the national organization, said in a 2015 video about the case that someone, somewhere, had to know who the slain girl was.
Watch the video from the NCMEC below.
“Someone is missing their little girl,” Murphy said at the time. “Someone knows who she is. Someone needs to come forward and help us give her her proper name, and in turn, provide her the justice she deserves.”
Anyone with information in the case is asked to call the Henderson Police Department at 702-267-4750, or to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers of Nevada at 702-385-5555.
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