Modern technology helping BCI solve decades-old mysteries
Story by Jatara McGee • 2mo
Modern technology is helping police crack decades-old mysteries.
Last month, WLWT was given access to the crime lab at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in London, Ohio. It’s where investigators work to piece together crimes and unsolved cases and assist law enforcement across the state.
Front and center was the case of an unidentified woman found dead in Hamilton County in May 2018. She is referred to as what’s known as a “Jane Doe.” The woman’s remains were found in a shallow grave next to a playground on Glenwood Avenue in Avondale. Someone had placed a flower on her chest.
Investigators at the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office and BCI have spent the last five years trying to identify her.
“For her case, one of the best things about it is that we have a lot of information. We do know that she had straighter, fine, wavy hair. We do have her jewelry. We know that she was found in size small clothing,” said Samantha Molnar, a criminal intelligence analyst at BCI.
According to the coroner’s office, the woman was white or biracial, between ages 35 and 60. The coroner estimates she was between 5 feet, 3 inches and 5 feet, 10 inches. She had no tattoos.
Several years ago, Molnar built a clay facial reconstruction of the woman to try to help the public put a name to a face.
“We used to do a CT scan of the skull and then we would use that to generate a 3D image that could be printed on a 3D printer, but now we actually just take pictures on our iPhones and we upload those pictures into a software and that generates the 3D image,” Molnar explained.
She is the artist behind facial reconstructions of Jane and John Does found across the state.
“Sometimes they’re homicide cases, but they can’t be worked until we know who the victim is. We don’t have a suspect. We don’t have witnesses. We don’t have relatives until we know who they are,” Molnar said.
In Hamilton County alone, the coroner’s office tells WLWT it has a record of seven unidentified remains dating back to 1986.
“Some of these cases are really awful, and I definitely sit there and wonder what did they go through in the last moments of their life,” Molnar said. “I just hope that there’s something that I can do that alleviates some of that pain for someone’s family member, once they finally get their name back.”
Roger Davis is the special agent in charge of investigations at BCI. Statewide, there are eight people within the agency who are dedicated to working cold cases.
Davis said a fresh set of eyes on a case is sometimes what is needed to crack it wide open. Local police agencies frequently request BCI’s help working old investigations.
“Cold cases are like a jigsaw puzzle,” Davis said.
He was part of the BCI team that investigated what happened to Cheryl Thompson, a 19-year-old University of Cincinnati student who went missing in 1978. She was raped, murdered and found dead in Loveland.
In 2022, advances in DNA analysis helped investigators close the case. Police pinned Thompson’s murder on Ralph Howell, who law enforcement and prosecutors now say was a suspected serial killer.
Davis said being in the room when Thompson’s family was given the news is something he will never forget.
“To finally give them what they’ve been looking for for so long, it’s the reason we do this. It’s for those families,” he said, misty-eyed. “You’re talking multiple decades that somebody has been looking for answers to something.”
That work is more possible with the help of modern technology like facial reconstruction software, advancements in DNA analysis and more.
Anyone with information about the unidentified Jane Doe found in Cincinnati is asked to contact the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office.