ECONOMY − As the eighth anniversary of one of Beaver County's strangest cold cases arrives once again, detectives are offering a large reward for information that will allow them to find some answers.
Crime Stoppers of Pennsylvania and the Beaver County Crime Solvers are working together to temporarily offer an increased reward for information on the unidentified embalmed head that was found in Economy in 2014. This increased reward period will begin on Dec. 11, allowing those with information to earn $10,000 for information on the case for one week.
"I've said from the very start of this, any tip, lead or information that anybody provides us, we're gonna we're gonna follow it up," said Mike O'Brien, Economy police chief. "No matter where it comes from or how bizarre the information may be, we're gonna follow it up, because we haven't been able to match her yet. We still don't know what happened and how she got there, so we're not dismissing any idea or theory until we are absolutely sure."
Reports indicate a "school-aged boy" from Economy found the unidentified head while he was walking near a wooded area off Mason Road around 12:30 p.m. Dec. 12, 2014. The head was located about 31 feet from the road, where investigators determined it had been sitting for about a week to a month. While this location is a fairly rural location of the borough, it can easily be accessed from Interstate 79, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and state Route 65.
Police indicated the head was cleanly cut across the arteries and spinal cord, but a crude and jagged cut was made along the skin on the neck. No animal bite marks were found on the head, with no evidence that the body part had been carried to the area by a wild animal. An embalming process had also taken place, but detectives are unable to determine how long before discovering the head that the process had been conducted.
When detectives began their autopsy, they discovered the victim's eyes had been removed and replaced with red, rubber ball toys. When talking to The Times in 2015, detectives said the balls were the same style as those you can buy out of a vending machine.
While the toys were not professional devices, investigators determined whoever had done the removal of the victim's eyes had some knowledge of anatomy. Initial investigations also revealed the practice of replacing eyeballs with rubber balls is not a common practice for preparing bodies for viewing in funeral homes, but the toys were covered with tan-colored eye caps, which are often used by funeral directors and embalmers.
Reports from The Times in 2015 indicated funeral homes and other institutions that use bodies for research across the country were asked about missing cadavers, but no matches were found for the head.
The victim in this case remains a "Jane Doe," as investigators have not been able to identify the woman. While other victims would be able to be identified using DNA, traditional testing has been unable to be completed due to the embalming process that was done on the head. No community members or law enforcement officials have been able to identify the victim through the recreated images either.
"We've been told by everybody that's done the testing for us that the sample was deteriorated by the embalming fluid," O'Brien said. "There's been a couple of labs who thought that they could get around that, with new technological advances in DNA sequencing, but they were unable to get the information as well. We've always had that hope that as time moves forward, and scientists work to improve all this stuff, that maybe we can get a DNA sample."
Despite lacking an identity, investigators have been able to use forensic technology to determine some key facts about Jane Doe. Isotope testing, which can be used to determine a person's geographical region based on the elements found in food and water they consumed, determined that the woman likely grew up and died in the regions around the Allegheny Mountains. Tests performed on her hair also identified lidocaine and atropine, which suggest that she may have died of cardiac arrest.
Throughout the years, various reconstructions and models of what Jane Doe may have looked like were created by investigators. According to investigators working on the case, she appears to have been around 60 to 80 years old at the time of her death. Her hair was a whitish-gray, appearing to be curly and stylized.
As of 2022, nobody has been able to identify the victim in this case and provide a name for the unidentified head. While hundreds of leads have been pursued over the past eight years, including missing people and those confirmed to be dead, none of these results have led to a name.
Investigators hope that keeping the images and details about Jane Doe in the public discussion will eventually lead to somebody who knew her and can correctly provide her identity. With some solid leads from the public, the case can gain some of the missing pieces of the puzzle.
"The best information we can get is definitely a name and around the time that they died," O'Brien said. "Any kind of identifying information for that person that we can check into. What we would do when we got a tip, for some sort of a name, we would gather their obituary and try to locate some family member that would have been listed there and speak with them."
Anyone who recognizes the victim in this case is encouraged to contact detectives about the victim. Callers can anonymously contact the Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-4PA-TIPS (8477) or the Crime Solvers at 724-774-2000.
This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Increased reward offered for information on embalmed head found in Economy