MIAMI, Okla. – An older sister of Cheryl Taylor, a Picher girl missing for 45 years, is providing Texas authorities with a DNA sample in hopes it is a match to the unidentified body of a woman found in 1981.
The sister, who asked not to be immediately identified, lives in a community north of Springfield, Mo.
“What is so strange – after years of not hearing anything I had a dream two nights ago about Cheryl,” the sister said. “I knew in the dream she was dead.”
“I was in shock,” the sister said when learning of the possibility of her sister’s case being solved.
Cheryl Denise Taylor, 12, of Picher, was last seen on July 28, 1978, standing on the sidewalk in or around a Picher grocery store between 7:15 to 7:30 p.m.
“She had gone to the grocery store for mom,” the sister said. “She didn’t have her glasses on and she was barefooted.”
Cheryl was with several friends on bicycles, and we think they dropped her off about two blocks from the house carrying a bag of groceries, the sister said.
“We don’t believe she ran away,” the sister said.
Cheryl was “happy-go-lucky” and very friendly, according to her sister.
Cheryl’s older sister, Peggy, was supposed to go to the store that day and “Cheryl’s disappearance really messed her up,” the sister said.
Hilda Taylor, Cheryl’s mother, started receiving death threats and she was scared for her children, so after alerting local authorities of her plans to move from the area out of fear, the family moved to Lebanon, Mo., the sister said.
Herman and Hilda Taylor, Cheryl’s parents, were separated at the time of their daughter’s disappearance. Herman had moved to Joplin.
“We didn’t know if dad had something to do with Cheryl’s disappearance,” the sister said. “He was a mean drunk.”
Herman Taylor was described by his daughter as a violent man that “repeatedly beat” Hilda and the children.
The family believes Herman was injured in the 2011 Joplin Tornado.
“We saw on tv the tornado destroyed his house,” the sister said. “He died in September 2011.”
The family assumed he was injured in the tornado and died four months later.
“His obituary didn’t even list us kids,” the sister said.
According to a death notice, Herman L. Taylor, 84, a retired truck driver, died Sept. 30, 2011.
UNRAVELING THE PUZZLE
So how does an amateur Pennsylvania sleuth connect a missing Oklahoma girl to a Texas Jane Doe?
“I spend hours going through NamUs and Websleuths,” said Janell Hileman Klatt.
Through her research, she learned of Cheryl Taylor’s case and then searched the entire NamUs database for unidentified teens.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the country. Websleuths is an internet site where registered users discuss crime and missing people.
“What struck me was the killer of the Texas teen said ‘he thought her name was Cheryl,’” Klatt said.
Klatt said she forwarded the information to Ottawa County Sheriff David Dean. Dean then sent the information to Mark Wall, who is leading up the investigation in Ottawa County. Wall contacted the Texas Constables who are working the case, Dale Schaper and Assistant Constable James Ellis.
“In my opinion, the artist’s sketch and Cheryl’s school photo are very similar,” Wall said.
For the past week, investigators have been pouring through troves of records attempting to locate information on Herman and Hilda Taylor, Cheryl’s parents.
Hilda Taylor’s burial was another piece of the puzzle.
She died in 1990 and is buried in Danville, Ill. about 500 miles north of Picher.
Schaper spent hours calling Danville area funeral homes looking for records. He spoke to a woman in the archive unit of the Danville Library, and late Thursday night (Feb. 9) he received an email containing Hilda Taylor’s obituary.
He immediately sent the 33-year-old obituary to Wall. Separately they began searching genealogy and information databases and making telephone calls hoping to reach one of Cheryl’s siblings listed in the obituary.
“We didn’t know if they were still alive or if they still had the same address as listed on the obituary,” Wall said.
Shortly before 10 p.m., they were both talking to the older sister.
“She was in such shock,” Wall said.
For that matter, Wall and Schaper were in shock.
“She is excited – but cautious,” Schaper said.
The older sibling was married and not living in Picher at the time of Cheryl’s disappearance, Schaper said.
The sibling relayed the family was “extremely poor” when living in Picher, he said.
Plans were made for a DNA testing kit to be overnighted to Wall who will hand deliver the kit to the sibling.
“We hope to have answers within a week,” Schaper said. “It all rests with dental records and a DNA match.”
The sibling said she didn’t recall Cheryl having dental work, he said. The unidentified teen in Texas had extensive dental work – 13 fillings, Schaper said. She also had several broken ribs in various stages of healing.
The unidentified teen was known as “Grimes County Jane Doe” by Texas authorities. Her skeletal remains were found in 1981 near Iola, Texas and subsequently sent to the University of North Texas Center for Identification.
A DNA sample was taken from the remains, and a genetic profile was created by Othram, a private DNA lab, Ellis said.
Ellis and Schaper have been working for years to identify Grimes County Jane Doe.
The profile showed a possible connection on Jane Doe’s paternal side to Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
The sister said the family didn’t live in Sapulpa but published reports showed the family had moved from Nowata County to Picher shortly before Cheryl disappeared.
Some of the similarities are unbelievable, Wall, Ellis and Schaper said in separate interviews.
The profile showed that Grimes County Jane Doe had red or auburn hair. Cheryl Taylor had red hair.
The Texas teen was right-handed and her age was estimated to be between 13 and 19 years old. She was between 5’1 and 5’4 in height and weighed around 110 pounds. Cheryl Taylor was small – perhaps weighing as little as 60 pounds.
After the lab receives the family DNA sample, they will use a “genome sequencing technique” to see if the two women are the same person. The results could take up to 10 days.
If you have information on Cheryl Taylor’s disappearance or information on the teen’s dental records you’re asked to call Mark Wall at (918) 542-5547. All information is confidential.