For more than 30 years, the remains of an unidentified body laid in the lab of the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center (FAC), commonly known as the Body Farm.
Recently, the remains were finally identified as 20-year-old Tina Marie McKenney Farmer. Farmer was a woman from Indiana who was killed in the winter of 1985. Her body was later found along Interstate 75 in Campbell County. Since Farmer's remains did not have any identification, and there was no way to identify the body at the time, she entered the system as Jane Doe.
Lee Jantz, associate director of the FAC, explained that Farmer’s body was skeletonized at the university 33 years prior after the medical examiner in Morristown contacted William Bass, founder of the Body Farm, to see if UT could take the body for storage.
“So, this is one of the Redhead Murder victims, at least this is what they always believed. She was found just a few days after her death. So, she was still somewhat recognizable. Certainly it was recognized that she was a white female,” Jantz said. “So, that body was placed at the research facility, the outdoor research facility, and allowed to decompose. Then, the skeleton was collected, and that skeleton has been curated ever since.”
The Redhead Murder victims were unsolved homicide cases believed to be committed by a serial killer during the 1980s in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The serial killer was dubbed the Bible Belt Strangler by an Elizabethton High School class who studied the case last year.
Alex Campbell’s sociology class at Elizabethton High School studied the 11 or 12 cases thought to be linked to the Redhead Murders and found that only six of the murders seemed to be actually linked. The students then created a profile of the serial killer based on the similarity of those six cases. Campbell said that while he was surprised, he was equally excited about the discovery of the identity of the remains.
“I think what the students did was important was that they found the same M.O., the same signature at the same time and the same geography that showed that these six women were linked together,” Campbell said. “That allows that these six women are talked about differently, and it allows them to maybe look at a person who would match all six of these instead of these random 11 or 12.”
According to Jantz, the reason why the body had gone so long without being identified was because of a lack of resources at the time.
“The reason that this case was not solved before this was because on the missing persons end, it wasn’t entered into a database. And again, I think it’s a matter of resources. Once that was, and it never was, it still wasn’t in any system,” Jantz said.
However, when a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agent saw a description of a missing person on a blog that looked familiar, that agent then tracked it back that way. Since the body was still in good enough shape, the fingerprints were able to be matched.
It also seems that the problem was the sites dedicated to reporting missing persons like National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) are not accurate in representing all the missing persons’ cases.
“The interesting part is, I don’t know if you know about this thing called NamUs. It’s the federal program that the Department of Justice uses for unknown victims, but only four states are required to use it. Tennessee is actually one of them,” Campbell said. “So, she was uploaded to the NamUs database, but Indiana does not require it to be used, so the missing people can’t find the body sometimes. We have a huge problem in this country because there’s no federal law. They created the program, but they didn’t require every state to use it.”
NCIC housed information not only about missing persons but about any stolen or missing good too, such as cars or guns. On top of that, the reports for missing persons had to be filled out each year, or they would slip through the cracks to be forgotten.
“The problem with NCIC is that it houses data on everything ... From stolen goods, guns to cars to missing people and unidentified people. NCIC, while its a national database, only law enforcement were able to enter any data. Only in the last few years have medical examiners been able to enter data,” Jantz said.
With a new spotlight on cold cases and newer technology, more and more cold cases could be solved, and the remains of others, like Farmer’s, could be identified.