UPDATED: Judge to allow body to be exhumed
By Dwayne Bremer
Oct 25, 2013, 23:06
Circuit Judge Dodson has granted a request by Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk to exhume a body buried at the Rotten Bayou Cemetery for possible identification through DNA.
Dodson's order was made public on Friday.
In her order, Dodson grants the exhumation, but sets forth 12 conditions for the exhumation process.
At hearings in August and last week, Faulk and other law enforcement officers said they believe the woman, known as Jane Doe, could be one of two missing women from Louisiana.
Dodson said identification of Jane Doe is in the public's best interest.
"There may be, and is in the court's mind, some question about whether Ms. Doe is either Nelda Hardwick or Eline Self," Dodson wrote. "There is, however, no doubt as to the sincerity of the various law enforcement officers, individuals, and cooperating colleges, scientists, etc, in identifying Ms. Doe. If Ms. Doe is not Mrs. Hardwick, one would still believe that Ms. Doe's family would support disinterment for the purposes of identification."
On May 8, 1998, a woman's body was discovered near the two-mile marker on Interstate 10.
The woman had apparently been the victim of a hit-and-run, officials said. She was never identified and her remains were interred at the Rotten Bayou Cemetery, now St. Joseph's Cemetery. All of the DNA evidence collected during the autopsy was lost during Hurricane Katrina, Faulk said.
Last year, Faulk said he was contacted by the two law enforcement agencies in Louisiana, which believe the woman showed similar characteristics to Self and Hardwick.
Hardwick, of Lake Charles, was 34 when she was last seen on Oct. 14, 1993. She had left a note to her live-in boyfriend saying she was going to the store and never returned.
Hardwick's height, weight, eye color, and identifying marks closely match those of Jane Doe, however, other features do not match, Dodson said in her order.
At a hearing last week, several of Hardwick's family members identified autopsy photos of Jane Doe as Hardwick.
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso, whose office has been investigating Hardwick's disappearance for 20 years, said Friday that Dodson's ruling is a "major step" in the case.
"We obviously feel strongly that it is her," Mancuso said. "Our main goal is trying to bring closure to the family and hopefully, we will have some answers soon. I want to commend the diligence of the coroner in Mississippi for his hard work."
Self, of Armistead, was 26 when she vanished on March 30, 1983.
She was last seen at a restaurant in Armistead. She had told friends she was leaving to pick up her child because she had to be at work early the next day. She never picked up her child and her vehicle was discovered in the restaurant parking lot the next morning, locked with her shoes inside.
In 2006, suspected serial killer Robert Charles Browne confessed to Self's murder; however, police have never been able to corroborate his story and they are now skeptical about the confession, according to a sworn affidavit.
Self's family members have said that they are skeptical that Jane Doe is Self, but they still support the exhumation.
"I just pray that whoever Ms. Doe is that she is reunited with her family and given her identity and proper burial," Self's daughter Karrie Bateman said Friday.
Dr. Mark LeVaughn, Mississippi's chief medical examiner testified last week that he believes exhuming the body and obtaining DNA would be beneficial, even if the woman turns out not to be Hardwick.
LeVaughn said the exhumation would be conducted by the Mississippi State forensic anthropology unit and that a portion of the remains would then be sent off for DNA testing at the University of North Texas.
He said the exhumation would most likely begin within a few week of obtaining the court order. He said it will take another four-to-six weeks to get the DNA results back.