On April 22, 1981, a 21-year-old woman from Arkansas was murdered. Her body was found 2 days later in Troy, Ohio, nearly 48 hours after her murder.
The body belonged to Marcia King, but nobody knew that at the time. In fact, her body remained unidentified for 36 years before being identified via DNA analysis and genetic genealogy in April of 2018, the first unidentified body to be identified in such a way.
She was known as "Miami County Jane Doe", or "Buckskin Girl" due to the tasseled buckskin poncho she was wearing when her body was discovered. Her family thought she was missing for 36 years, not knowing her body had been found a mere 2 days after her murder. Her killer has never been found.
DISCOVERING THE BODY & THE INVESTIGATION
Marcia's body was found on April 24, 1981 by 3 young men in Newton Township, Troy, Ohio. They originally just took notice of her very distinctive buckskin poncho, but when they took a closer look at the coat, they realized that there was a woman inside of it. She was laying in the fetal position without shoes or socks on. The men called the authorities and reported the discovery.
Her body was autopsied the same afternoon of the discovery. It was determined that she had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and was ultimately strangled to death, about 48 hours before she was found. Her liver was lacerated, and they determined that she had not been sexually assaulted.
The autopsy also revealed that she was between 5'4" and 5'6", between the ages of 18 and 26 and weighed 125-130 pounds. Her hair was reddish-brown, worn in braided pigtails. She had freckles and light brown eyes with a pointed nose. Her complexion indicated that she was likely spending a lot of time outside in the final weeks or months of her young life.
She maintained a good level of personal hygiene with healthy teeth and no evidence of fillings or dental work. The coroner found several scars on her body, including a scar beneath her chin, and on her wrists and ankles.
She was dressed in blue bell-bottom jeans, a turtleneck sweater, and her bra, and the infamous deerskin poncho that seemed handmade. She didn't have shoes or socks on. And, the biggest issue, she did not have any form of identification on her or near the crime scene.
Because she had been dead for about 48 hours at the time of the discovery, fingerprints and dental information were still obtainable. But they didn't lead to much: The dental charts and fingerprints of the victim didn't yield any results or match any missing person, and she didn't have a criminal record. A composite drawing of her face was done and shared widely, but despite 200 leads, none of them amounted to anything.
She was called "Buckskin Girl", but because the authorities were unable to determine who she really was, it was difficult to solve her murder. Authorities believed that she was probably still unidentified because she lived nowhere near where her body was found, or where the media was sharing her image. It was determined to be highly unlikely that she was from the area where her body was discovered.
In fact, they also believed that she was murdered somewhere else, but discarded in Troy, Ohio after her death. Her feet were bare, but clean, so there is no indication that she walked anywhere, and the dumping site was close to Interstate 75, so it would have been convenient for her killer to hop off the highway, dump her, and get right back on.
Though her case was cold, investigators had a couple of theories as to what happened to her. Many believed that she was a runaway teenager, foster child or a wanderer. Her personal hygiene indicated, however, that she was likely not gone for very long, and the absence of footwear made them believe that she probably wasn't walking through Ohio. Through isotope analysis in 2016, it was determined that she spent approximately 4 months in areas within the Southwestern or Southeastern United States before her murder.
Investigators believed that she may have fallen victim to a serial killer who committed murders from 1985 to 2004, meaning she may have been killed 4 years before anyone even knew about him. All of his victims were prostitutes and had been bludgeoned and then strangled to death, with an item of clothing missing from each crime scene. Though footwear was missing from the crime scene for Marcia, and she had been killed in a similar manner, there was no indication that she had engaged in any sexual activity, wanted or unwanted, before her death. Additionally, her good hygiene and history of dental care did not align with the other victims.
FORENSIC ANALYSIS KEEPS IMPROVING
Luckily, in 1981, investigators saved everything they would need to continue revisiting her case as new advancements were made. In 2008, her DNA profile was entered into the newly established National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which included fingerprints, dental and DNA information. The data ruled out 226 missing teenage girls and women.
In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children put together a facial reconstruction of her, which was extensively distributed online, but no leads developed from it.
Also in 2016, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency conducted a forensic pathology test on her clothing. Testing revealed that she was either from the Northeastern United States, or spent a significant amount of time in that region, which supported suspicious that she may have been a hitchhiker.
In 2018, the DNA Doe Project, with assistance from Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory, did a DNA analysis that positively identified her as Marcia Lenore King of Little Rock, Arkansas. Her DNA was successfully matched to a sample submitted by a first cousin. Her family declined a press statement.
Her family had last seen her in 1980, and she was never officially reported as a missing person because of her affinity for hitchhiking around the country. However, when she never came back, her family searched for her.
Once she was identified, the murder case reopened. Eyewitnesses had placed her in Louisville, Kentucky approximately 14 days before her death, and eyewitnesses also corroborated accounts of her being in Arkansas before her murder. She may have traveled to Ohio on her own accord for a religious organization she was suspected to be involved in.
In February 2020, just a few months ago, the Miami County Sheriff's Office announced they were able to further reconstruct her whereabouts in the 2 weeks leading up to her murder through a nuclear DNA profile. The case is ongoing, and the authorities hope they will be able to find the person who murdered the Buckskin Girl, or Marcia King.
A FUNERAL FOR MARCIA KING, 36 YEARS LATER
2 weeks after her death, King was buried as Jane Doe at Riverside Cemetery in Miami County, Ohio. Several officers who were investigating her murder served as pallbearers at the unidentified woman's funeral. Once she was identified, her family elected for her to remain buried there, believing it was "God's plan" for her to be murdered and remain unidentified for so long. (I suppose whatever helps you cope, but oof, it would be hard to truly believe that being murdered and not being able to be properly mourned for 36 years was what was supposed to happen.) They felt Marcia was blessed to have been found in a community that showed her so much dignity and consideration after her death and during such a long period of identification.
A memorial service was held for King in Troy, Ohio on July 20, 2018. Her father, brother and half-brother had all died by the time King's identify was discovered. Her stepmother, and 8 other surviving family members, replaced her "Jane Doe" headstone with one with her actual name. 50 local residents attended the service, and her stepmother thanked everyone in attendance for loving her and taking her into their arms when she died in their community.
As groundbreaking improvements continue to be made in forensics, hopefully, more Jane and John Doe's can get their real names back. For 36 years, Marcia King was Marcia King to her family and friends who were mourning the loss of their loved one who they didn't know was dead. But in Ohio, Marcia King was Buckskin Girl, or Jane Doe, being found and buried without her name. Though forensic developments won't bring her back, at least it brought closure to her family, and allowed her real name to go on her headstone, which is something.