Body of Evidence: Coroner begins process to exhume ‘Jane Doe’
By Dwayne Bremer
Dec 17, 2013, 18:40
Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk on Tuesday inspects the grave of a woman buried as "Jane Doe" at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Diamondhead. Faulk and other medical professionals will be exhuming the body this week in hopes of obtaining DNA to identify her.
A forensic anthropology team arrived in Hancock County Tuesday and began the process of exhuming an unidentified woman buried at St. Joseph's Cemetery, formerly Rotten Bayou Cemetery.
The team will be assisting Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk and Mississippi State Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn in exhuming a woman killed during a hit-and-run accident on Interstate 10 in 1998.
Faulk recently petitioned Hancock County Circuit Court asking to have the woman exhumed so that DNA could be collected in hopes of identifying her.
Forensic anthropologist Nicholas Hermann and his team from Mississippi State University began Tuesday by marking off "Jane Doe's" grave of and doing preliminary work at the site.
The actual exhumation of the body will not take place until later this week, Faulk said.
In October, Circuit Judge Lisa Dodson granted the exhumation request after two hearings in which Faulk, LeVaughn, and other law enforcement officials testified.
On May 8, 1998, a woman's body was discovered near the two-mile marker on Interstate 10.
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, who 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.
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 persons from across the country. 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.