PLAINVIEW, Texas — Wednesday marks 40 years since the headless body of a young woman was found northeast of Plainview. Despite numerous attempts by law enforcement over the years, the woman remains unidentified.
The woman, who authorities said had been decapitated, was found on a dirt road on February 16, 1982. According to an article from The Associated Press at the time, the young woman’s hands were tied behind her back and her body was badly decomposed.
In October of that year, a skull was found in the desert near Scottsdale, Arizona. Eventually, forensic pathologist Dr. Ralph Erdmann said at the time he was convinced both the body and the skull were from “a white female from the same age group,” according to the AP.
After Erdmann’s conclusion, the skull and the body were buried together in a grave in Plainview under the marker “Jane Doe.” The grave was exhumed in 2015 after doubts were raised about Erdmann’s conclusion and so DNA samples could be taken.
According to nonprofit DNA Doe Project, after the exhumation, it was determined that the skull and the body did not belong to the same person. Additionally, results obtained by the DNA Doe Project in 2019 suggested the woman was predominately African American.
However, as of February 2022, the official listing on the National Missing and Identified Persons System listed the unidentified woman’s race as white.
Dr. Ralph Erdmann
Before it was formally decided that the skull and the body did not belong to the same person, investigators already had doubts due to the involvement of Dr. Erdmann.
In 1992 Erdmann, who performed autopsies for counties across the South Plains, pleaded no contest to charges out of Hockley County that he falsified an autopsy.
He was sentenced to 10 years probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution.
According to the Seattle Times, he relocated to Washington, but was arrested in 1995 after authorities found 122 guns at his home. As a felon, Erdmann was not allowed to legally own guns.
Additionally, Erdmann was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment in 1992. During the segment, he was confronted about how there were condiments such as jelly and hot sauce in a fridge that also contained blood and urine samples.
Erdmann died in 2010 at age 83, according to an obituary.
At one point, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was indicted for murdering the unidentified woman after confessing to killing her. However, those charges were dropped after he was sentenced to life in prison for another murder, and many of his confessions have been called into question over the years.
Search to identify ‘Plainview Jane Doe’ still ongoing
The DNA Doe Project said Wednesday that efforts to identify the woman are still ongoing as of February 2022.
The organization said it has been working to build a family tree based on distant DNA matches.
The organization said the woman found in Plainview had DNA matches that came from California, Pennsylvania and several southern states. However, the woman only shared a low amount of DNA with those matches.
The DNA Doe Project encouraged people who have submitted DNA for sites such as Ancestry.com, 23andMe and MyHeritage to upload their DNA profiles to the GEDmatch database.
The database has been used by various law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases, including uncovering the identity of the Golden State Killer in 2018. The DNA Doe Project has used the database to identify dozens of John and Jane Doe’s.
The organization explained how to upload matches in a video uploaded to YouTube. You can find that video here.