Fulton County, Pa., murder cases reopened

August 27, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - The cremated remains of an unidentified young woman sit in an evidence locker in the Pennsylvania State Police Barrack in McConnellsburg and they'll stay there for the next 60 years unless police can learn who she is or are satisfied that whoever killed her has died.

It's the second old case to be reopened by state police involving the unsolved death of a woman whose body was found in Fulton County, Cpl. William D. Benson, supervisor of the barrack's crime unit, said Monday.

Benson said the body in the Jane Doe case was found in a badly decomposed state under some stacked and broken branches May 1, 1995.


Tpr. Sean Flaherty was off duty and jogging with his dog around 6:45 p.m. that day on Fire Tower Road when he came upon it. Police have never learned who she was or how she died.

"The fact that it was covered leads me to believe that someone tried to hide the body," he said.

The body was so badly decomposed that an autopsy failed to show how the woman died, he said.

DNA samples were taken from her hair and skin was taken from her fingers to get prints. Dental impressions were also taken. Attempts to match the woman with missing or dead women in police files through the law enforcement network have failed to produce results so far, Benson said.

"We've had about a thousand hits but none match the woman's dental records," he said.

He said the composite drawing of the woman was compiled by FBI and Smithsonian Institution computers. His own curiosity plus the fact that forensics and body identification procedures have been greatly enhanced in the last seven years prompted him to reopen case.

"It's amazing what they can do with a crime scene now. Things have really advanced since 1995," Benson said.

Tpr. Michael Sprague has been put in charge of the investigation.

Police believe the woman was between her late teens and early 30s when she died. She was 5-feet, 3-inches tall and weighed between 125 and 1325 pounds, Benson said.

He said the woman's ashes will be kept in the evidence locker until she can be identified or until enough years pass that police are confident that whoever may have killed her has died. He said that could take 60 or more years.

"We want to find out who she is," Benson said. "This woman needs to be returned to her family."

Police know the identity of the second woman. Her body was found by a passer-by about 25 feet off the shoulder of Interstate 70 the 161 mile marker Feb. 5, 1997. She had been shot in the head and stabbed, Benson said.

Police identified her as Mary Ann Stahlman of Cumberland, Md.

Benson said the theory surrounding her death is that she was murdered elsewhere and her body dumped along the interstate.

While it will be difficult to find who killed Stahlman, cases like that are easier to solve when police have the victim's identity. "It's always easier when you know who the person is," Benson said.

The Herald-Mail Articles