‘Jane Doe’ to be exhumed in two weeks
By Dwayne Bremer
Dec 10, 2013, 21:24
An unidentified woman buried at the Rotten Bayou cemetery will be exhumed within two weeks, Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk said Tuesday.
The woman, buried as Jane Doe, was killed during a hit-and-run traffic accident on I-10 in 1998.
Earlier this year, Faulk successfully petitioned the Hancock County Circuit Court to allow him and other medical professionals to exhume the remains in an attempt to identify the woman.
Faulk said he is putting the final touches on the plans to exhume the body, which will include using ground-penetrating radar.
Federal officials are loaning the equipment to Hancock County and it is expected to arrive later this week, Faulk said.
"We will be ready to go within a week or two," Faulk said. "We are using the radar to make sure the remains are still there. It will definitely be done before Christmas."
In October, Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson granted the exhumation request after two hearings in which Faulk, the state's chief medical examiner, and other law enforcement officials testified.
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 two law enforcement agencies in Louisiana, which believe the woman showed similar features to women missing from their respective areas.
The main focus has been on Nelda Louise Hardwick, of Lake Charles, who 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 in October, several of Hardwick's family members identified autopsy photos of Jane Doe as Hardwick.
Dr. Mark LeVaughn testified in October that identifying the woman is important, even if it is not Hardwick.
LeVaughn said if DNA is recovered, it will be saved and can be compared to missing person's from across the county.
Under Dodson's orders, LeVaughn is to supervise the exhumation.
If any remains are located, they will be sent to the University of North Texas for DNA analysis, Faulk said.