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Victim in unsolved 1979 New York homicide identified as Brooksville girl

Recent DNA testing has confirmed that the girl known as Caledonia Jane Doe, who was found shot to death in a New York corn field, is Tammy Jo Alexander, a Brooksville High School student who was 13 years old when she vanished. [Hernando County Sheriff's Office]
Recent DNA testing has confirmed that the girl known as Caledonia Jane Doe, who was found shot to death in a New York corn field, is Tammy Jo Alexander, a Brooksville High School student who was 13 years old when she vanished. [Hernando County Sheriff's Office]
Published Jan. 27, 2015

BROOKSVILLE

A nameless New York homicide victim whose unsolved killing puzzled investigators for more than three decades has been identified as a teenager who vanished from Brooksville in 1979.

Recent DNA testing confirmed that the girl known as Caledonia Jane Doe, who was found shot to death in a New York cornfield, is Tammy Jo Alexander, a former Hernando High School student.

The exact circumstances of her disappearance are unclear, but Alexander was last seen Nov. 3, 1979, the day after her 16th birthday, authorities said. A week later, a passing driver spotted a girl's body lying in a cornfield off State Road 20, near the town of Caledonia, south of Rochester, N.Y.

She had been shot twice. She carried no identification and did not match the description of any of that area's missing persons.

In August, Alexander's classmate and friend, Laurel Nowell, called the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to report her disappearance. Alexander's family had never done so. No one seems to know why.

"I guess that's the million-dollar question at this point," Nowell said Monday when reached at her home in Arizona. "I'm sure everybody's got a theory. … I just felt like seeking her out and that's what I found, that no one had reported it."

Nowell declined to discuss the case further, saying detectives had told her not to talk about it.

Alexander's disappearance remains an open investigation at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Investigators there are also trying to determine why no one in her family reported her missing.

"There's not a real good answer for that," Hernando sheriff's spokesman Michael Terry said. "It might not have been the best family environment. There was a history of running away, so maybe they thought that she would come back."

As detectives investigated the girl's background, they found her stepsister, Sharen Nelson of Lakeland, who confirmed Alexander went missing, sheriff's officials said. They later found her half sister, Pamela Dyson of Dothan, Ala., who said the same.

Alexander's information was entered into a national crime database and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. On Jan. 7, investigators discovered that Alexander's physical traits matched those of Caledonia Jane Doe. A mitochondrial DNA test confirmed the match.

The results bring an end to a mystery that, over the years, has attracted national attention on TV shows like America's Most Wanted and confounded investigators. For years, detectives turned to what little they knew of the unidentified girl for clues about her identity.

She was found fully clothed, her pockets turned inside out. From tan lines on her body, investigators surmised that she had recently traveled to New York from a warm climate. In one pocket were two matching key chains, one with a small silver key, the other a heart bearing the inscription, "He who holds the key can open my heart."

But now that she has a name, many questions remain unanswered, chief among them: Who killed Tammy Jo Alexander?

What little is known about the last days of her life offer a few clues. The night before she was found dead, a number of people reported seeing the teen trying to hitch a ride with truck drivers in the area, according to the Doe Network, an online database of missing and unidentified people. A server at a diner in Lima, N.Y., reported seeing the girl at the restaurant, accompanied by a man.

A spot of blood marked the roadside 20 feet north of where her body was found. Detectives believe she was shot there, then dragged into the field, where she was shot again.

Serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole were considered possible suspects in the case. But her killer's identity remains elusive.

Her body is buried in a cemetery in Dansville, N.Y. Her gravestone bears the inscription: "Lest we forget — Unidentified girl — Nov. 1979 — And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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