AUSTIN, Texas - At a small cemetery in Waynesville, Missouri is a tombstone with the name Jane Doe on it.
500 miles away in Fort Worth, work at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification was instrumental in helping detectives make a true identification.
"This was the longest case I've ever worked on," said Det. Doug Renno with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.
Renno told FOX 7 the mystery woman found at a low water crossing near Dixon, Missouri in 1981 is Karen Kay Knippers. The identification started when her remains were sent to the center in Fort Worth for DNA and forensic testing.
"After a bit of time, and work, those folks there in Texas sent us a report they were successful in obtaining and developing mitochondrial and STR DNA," said Renno.
The lab work eventually was submitted to the DNA Doe Project in California. The organization is the one that helped Williamson County authorities in 2020 identify Sue Ann Huskey's body. For several decades she was known only as Corona girl, because of the shirt found on her body near Jarrell.
When Huskey's identification was announced, her family had this to say: "They have given our sister back and now we can take her home."
As with Huskey, in the Knippers case, a process called genetic genealogy enabled the DNA Doe Project to identify a relative; a brother who is living in Virginia. "And we did a comparison a scientific comparison to make sure it was in fact a direct relative, a sibling," said Renno.
Forensic imaging and isotope analysis on Knipper's teeth and bone by the University of South Florida provides a Texas twist to the Missouri investigation. At some point, it’s believed she lived in the gulf coast region - possibly in south Texas.
"I know she came from that region, along the southern part of Texas all the way to the east coast, that where the majority of her life was spent," said Renno.
With the identification investigators in Missouri hope new leads in the murder case will soon follow.
KTBC reported this story from Austin, Texas.