MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A former Jane Doe has been positively identified 47 years after her body was found in Sessions Creek in Grand Bay.
On May 18, 1976, a group of teenaged boys found the body of an elderly woman in the creek on Potter Tract Road. The unknown woman had one gunshot wound to the back of the head; Sgt. J.T. Thorton with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) said the killer knew what they were doing.
“The body was found with its hand removed, but the limbs were covered in plastic bags, as was the head, to prevent blood from aerating into the vehicle during transport,” Thorton said. “So somebody knew, had an idea of what they were doing. Normally, that’s not a first-time behavior. This is somebody that’s actually done this before.”
DNA testing wasn’t made available until 10 years later, which made fingerprinting the only way to scientifically identify the remains. With the victim not having hands, investigators were left with no option but to ask media outlets to push out post-mortem photos in hopes that somebody would recognize her.
After countless leads that went nowhere, investigators gave the victim a placeholder name, Jane Doe. The case went cold.
Then, in 2021, genealogy analyst Olivia McCarter and Thorton re-opened the case.
“We decided that this would be a good case for investigative genetic genealogy to identify the remains,” McCarter said.
One problem stood in the way of any hopes to scientifically find Doe’s real name.
“We later found out she was cremated,” McCarter said.
While looking through evidence, McCarter and Thorton found a ceramic dental mold with dead skin on it. McCarter sent the mold, still wrapped in the same paper towel from 1976, to a forensics lab in Salt Lake City, Utah, for INVAC testing.
“And I did not think it was going to work, neither did (Thorton) … It turns out it was the best DNA sample I’ve ever gotten off of an item,” McCarter said.
INVAC testing, according to McCarter, was originally used to find bacteria on various items like clothes, but to find DNA on a dental mold, McCarter said would be a tricky task.
“It’s really just a mystery to me,” McCarter said. “It’s a scientific miracle. It really shouldn’t have happened.”
In the 1970s, McCarter said investigators did not use gloves, increasing the chances for contamination. She said the results came back with almost no contamination.
Two months later, the Jane Doe remains were named to Ada Elizabeth Fritz. Investigators contacted Fritz’s nephew, and through post-mortem photos, he was able to identify her.
Fritz was born on Sept. 22, 1914. She had been visiting Grand Bay from Arkansas when she was killed.
Henderson James Williams is suspected of killing Fritz in a string of murders that shows several similarities.
Williams spent 28 days in jail for a 1973 killing in Virginia, three years before Fritz’s murder. Williams was arrested again for the 1984 killing of his own mother. All of the bodies were found in bodies of water with their hands cut off. Williams died in prison in 2008.
“The direct link is going to be impossible to say, ‘Hey, this is why he did it. This is what happened.’ We will never know that, unfortunately,” Thorton said.
Thorton said MCSO is looking into another similar case in another state that could be related to Wiliams.