Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tammy Alexander: Anonymous No More

It's definitely peculiar when the body of an unidentified person is discovered. This occurrence happens all across the world, especially in populous areas. There are an estimated 40,000 unidentified bodies in the United States alone. Many of such individuals remain unidentified for years. That's what happened when sixteen-year-old Tammy Jo Alexander in November of 1979.

Tammy came from an unstable household in Brooksville, Florida. Her mother abused drugs and often times erupted into furious tantrums, which many could agree was an undesirable way to grow up. This led Tammy to run away from home, hitchhiking as far as California, where her family would eventually pay for a flight to bring her home. Then, there was one time where she never came back, sometime between 1977 and 1979.

After her final disappearance, a teenage girl's body was found on the side of a corn field in Caledonia, New York on November 10, 1979. The victim was shot twice - once in the head and again in the back. Her killer then dragged her into the field, where she was found about a day later. Authorities were called to the scene but found no identification documents in her possession, possibly  being removed by the perpetrator, as her pockets were turned inside out. Days passed. Then months. Years. The police realized that they were dealing with a Jane Doe, later known as the Caledonia Jane Doe or as Cali Doe.

I first learned about this case in late 2008, when I began reading about murder victims, which became a fascination of mine. I then discovered that it was possible that a victim would not identified, including that of Cali Doe and Princess Doe, who were estimated to be only teenagers when they were murdered. Eventually, my interest with homicide victims as a whole began to fade away, as I chose to pursue more positive interests.

Five years passed and I stumbled once again on an unidentified person case when researching about forensic facial reconstruction,  which I was used to seeing on ancient mummies, such as King Tut. I then searched for more cases of unidentified individuals, which led me to discover The Doe Network, which is a database that covers cases across the world. I came across the file of a girl found in New York in 1979, which I eventually found out was the Caledonia Jane Doe. I found this very interesting, as I had read about this case before, but had never come across reconstructions of what she may have looked like when alive.

I read more about the case and discovered more information about the girl. Testing on her bones and clothing indicated that she was from Arizona, California,Northern Mexico or Florida, judging by the pollen found clinging to her clothes. This was  I also learned that she was likely to be a runaway - since she appeared to be wearing secondhand clothing and suffered from tooth decay and acne.

I soon began reading more about unidentified persons cases on the Doe Network, which covers thousands of cases worldwide. This led me somewhat astray from that of Cali Doe, but I definitely never forgot about her. Later in the year, my final project for creative writing was to create a play, which I eventually decided to write a fictionalized story about several unidentified persons with Cali Doe as a supporting character, who was a runaway from an abusive stepfather in Arizona. I was certainly a bit off with the actual location, as Tammy was from Florida, but I believed at the time that she was from the southwestern part of the country, additionally because of the Native-American-appearing necklace that she wore.

By January 2015, my hopes for the case being solved were dwindling somewhat. I knew that there would always be cases where a victim wouldn't be identified and was starting to believe that this case, which was quite close to me, wouldn't have a happy ending. She could have been from anywhere in the country and fit the description of countless missing children, many of which were excluded as possible identities.

While scrolling on my Facebook news feed, one of the pages dedicated to the unidentified posted photo of a smiling blond teen who was recently reported missing by a childhood friend. It was Tammy Alexander, who had likely run away from home in the late 1970s and would have her sister's mitochondrial DNA compared to that of the body of Cali Doe. I figured this was going to be another exclusion, as Tammy didn't look exactly like the body or the reconstructions of the unidentified victim and had a different hair color and style, although traces of blond were found in Cali's hair.

On the morning of January 26, 2015, I was scrolling on my Facebook news feed once again and saw a headline reading: LIVINGSTON COUNTY OFFICIALS TO IDENTIFY THE CALEDONIA JANE DOE. My eyes grew wide and I couldn't help letting out a short "oh, God!" and clicked the link, which stated that the DNA was a match with Tammy Alexander. I called for my mother who presumed something wrong had happened. I ran out of my room and into the hallway, where I embraced her and collapsed onto the floor in an explosion of tears.

I'd told her about my passion for unidentified persons cases before, but tried to cut back, as it wasn't exactly a cheerful topic to bring up. Nonetheless, I quickly told her the story of the Caledonia Jane Doe and the events leading up to the discovery of her identity. I knew she wouldn't exactly understand, but I didn't care. The mystery had been solved, in part, as we now knew who the Jane Doe was.

Although Tammy's body was identified, the individual who took her life has never been charged or identified. A man who was seen with Tammy at a diner has been named a person of interest, but the only clue we have is a rough FBI sketch of a young man wearing glasses. Now, authorities have decided to post billboards detailing the case on highways, which has proven to be a good way to find important evidence. Who knows? The case may eventually be solved.

This post received an Editor's Choice award on TeenInk.