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St. Petersburg police identify missing girl, 42 years later (w/video)

Investigator Brenda Stevenson and Assistant Chief Jim Previtera detail the case on Thursday at the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Investigator Brenda Stevenson and Assistant Chief Jim Previtera detail the case on Thursday at the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Published May 22, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The black binder is old and peeling, the cover askew, a rush of papers bursting from each end.

It bears the scars of too many openings, of a journey between hands that tried and failed to keep it closed for good.

It contains the story of a blue-eyed girl, a runaway who chewed her fingernails short and wore her auburn hair long. She drifted from Virginia to St. Petersburg, flopped in a house on 11th Avenue S, told lies about her age and her name.

On June 9, 1973, a man pushed her into traffic in southern St. Petersburg. A car dragged her more than 100 feet. "Her features were destroyed beyond recognition," the Times reported.

For nearly 16 years she was Janice Marie. For the next 42 she was Jane Doe. On Thursday, police were able to announce her full, proper name.

• • •

Janice Marie Young's free spirit belied the pain of her youth.

Her younger brother, Timothy, said they were born Brock but were later adopted by the Young family in Newport News, Va. Both he and his sister were molested by a relative, he said.

"My sister and I, when we were kids — we all have like a teddy bear, a blanket, something that comforts us — she was that way for me and I was that way for her," Young said. They liked Simon & Garfunkel, Bread — "music that kind of touches your heart," he said — and fast food burgers and fries.

Young said his sister endured particularly painful abuse. She packed a pillowcase full of clothes and told him she was running away. He figured it was just for a while, to a friend's house.

Soon after, when they got off the school bus, Janice had her pillowcase. "She looked at me and she said she loved me and I said, 'See you later.' "

He never saw Janice again.

St. Petersburg police reports from the night she died say a 24-year-old man, Lawrence Dorn, pushed her into traffic during a fight about 1 a.m. in the 800 block of 11th Avenue S.

Witnesses said they knew her only as Marie and that they had met just days before. Hours before her death, police had stopped her on the street, thinking she looked like a suspect in another investigation. Janice gave her last name as Brock, and an incorrect birth date of June 17, 1953.

When they found her later, on the pavement, she wore all purple clothing and her body had massive wounds. The driver was shaken. Police said he had no time to stop.

Police could not determine definitively what led to the altercation. Dorn told them he did not know the girl but had given her and some others a ride. At the house where he dropped her off, he said, she attacked him with a broken bottle and knife. He claimed his shove was in self-defense.

Officers arrested Dorn and charged him with first-degree murder. In about a month, the charges were reduced to manslaughter, and then dropped entirely. The State Attorney's Office said it could not prove Dorn's intent.

• • •

Brenda Stevenson started the binder with Jane Doe's case in 2006. A civilian investigator with the Police Department, Stevenson's demeanor reflects her work. Her tone is solemn, direct. She attacks cold cases for justice, not joy.

"Law enforcement has an obligation to notify the family of the death of a loved one," she said.

The first few years, there was little progress. In 2010 she made a mighty push, asking the Medical Examiner's Office to exhume the girl's body from Memorial Park Cemetery.

The examiner reached out to the University of South Florida, which pulled in anthropologist Erin Kimmerle. Together they disinterred Jane Doe and two other bodies from unmarked graves. They collected a sample of the girl's DNA but found no matches.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reached out in 2013. They posted a reconstructed picture of the girl on Facebook in October the following year. "Do you recognize this teenage girl who was in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1973?"

The post listed the name she had given police: Janice Marie Brock.

It wasn't until January, after years of searching, that Timothy Young thought to try a new Google query using his sister's birth name, not her adoptive one. He found the missing person's post along with some news reports.

"I said, this is her. It has to be her," Young, 56, said. "There's too many things in the article that make sense."

• • •

Three hours before police announced they had identified the missing girl on Thursday, Lawrence Dorn sat on his couch in his pajamas. He was surrounded by pictures of his family — his wife, their three kids.

Dorn, 67, wrestled with tears. He sighed. He wondered if he would be charged again. He has never been arrested, he said, not since 1973. He drove trucks, ran a sandwich shop, is active in his church.

But police had not reached out to tell him of the update to the case.

"I prayed for her. I really did. I prayed that they would find out who she is," he said. "I asked God for forgiveness."

Later, at the news conference, Assistant Chief Jim Previtera made it clear this was not about a murder case, but a missing persons investigation. There would be no new charges.

Young was home in Montgomery County, N.C. Soon, he said, he will put his sister's ashes in an urn at his house. "She will finally be with me," he said.

Stevenson, the cold case investigator, remembers seeing the DNA results earlier this month. She called Young and read to him the critical part about how "he could not be excluded as the biological relative of the victim." It was, four decades late, the official death notification for Janice Marie's family. Young cried, and so did Stevenson.

After the news conference, she stood near the binder, watching reporters leaf through its bulging pages. When most of them left, she picked it up and cradled it in her elbow.

Stevenson closed the cover. That's how it will stay.

Times news researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com. Follow @ZackSampson.

Editor's note

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: Timothy Young is the younger brother of Janice Marie Young, who went missing as a teenager in 1973 and whose remains were recently identified in St. Petersburg. A story Friday listed an incorrect first name for the brother.

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