APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. - The Apache Junction Police Department in Arizona says it's closer to identifying a teen found dead nearly three decades ago after teaming up with genetic genealogists who have gathered new information in the case of "Apache Junction Jane Doe."
Could this cold case get solved soon?
For the last four years, the Apache Junction Police Department and the DNA Doe Project (DDP) have partnered to uncover the identity of the teen. DDP is an all-volunteer organization of genetic genealogists working to reunite John and Jane Does with their families.
In this case, investigators finally made contact with an immediate relative of Apache Junction Jane.
In Apache Junction, not much has changed in the desolate dirt lot since August 6, 1992, south of US-60 and West of Idaho Road where a body was discovered that summer day. A girl with no name.
If it wasn't for a man walking his dog, who knows how long Jane Doe would have been left alone in the remote area. It's believed she had been dead for five weeks and that amount of time made a significant impact on her autopsy results.
Who is Apache Junction Jane Doe?
Her cause of death is still undetermined, but here's what we do know about her.
She's believed to be half Hispanic, a quarter African American and a quarter white. Likely in the age range of 16-18 when she died. She was possibly just over five feet tall, and her weight is unknown.
Jane's teeth were described to be "protruding."
Her hair was brown and in a ponytail. She wore blue denim cut-off shorts and her T-shirt had soccer balls on the front and back. The brand of the T-shirt is labeled "Team Gear." She also wore a yellow metal ring and was found with a Phoenix transit system token that read, "valid for one student fare."
In her left pocket was a fake paper penny.
Apache Junction Jane Doe
DNA evidence helps investigators make a major discovery
In 2008, Apache Junction Police officer and crime scene technician, Stephanie Bourgeois, took over the case.
"For me, it's more about her family, her identity, and just giving her name back," she said.
As the case got colder a decade later, Bourgeois discovered DDP, the DNA Doe Project, which has a team of genetic genealogists helping law enforcement across the country to identify the unidentified using a DNA profile to reveal one's family tree.
In the summer of 2021, police said they had the biggest lead yet in this nearly 30-year-old cold case.
After getting in contact with Jane's cousin, investigators learn of Jane's half-aunt who learned she had a half-brother via a birth certificate left by her father. But, the challenge was finding her half-brother, Bernhard Lyon Neumann.
"Bernhard had been, last we knew we had his birth certificate, and he, we believed, was either in Germany or the United States because he had been born in Germany," Bourgeois said.
Bernhard was born in 1953 and his mother is identified as a German woman named Else Neumann. Bourgeois says Bernhard's African American father served in the military while stationed in Germany.
When asked what the odds were at first when beginning the search for Bernhard, Bourgeois said, "I did not have high hopes that we would find Bernhard because we only had his birthday and his biological parents' names and his birth name."
Cairenn Binder with DDP admits the odds were slim, but recently, the U.S. Department of State stepped in and helped locate Bernhard in North Carolina.
When asked what Bernhard's reaction was when he learned he had a relative who was unidentified for nearly 30 years, Bourgeois says he was "very emotional."
Like Jane, Bernhard's own family history has been a mystery.
Bourgeois says when he enlisted in the military at 18, he found out his parents adopted him as a baby. In fact, he's never actually gone by the name Bernhard.
The name his adoptive parents gave him has not been made public.
"He didn't have a lot of information about his biological parents. So, for him to hear that, you know, there was a possible relative of his, but he just, you know, she didn't have a name. We didn't know who her parents were. He, unfortunately, doesn't have a lot of information because he didn't know his biological parents as well. He only knew his adoptive parents," Bourgeois explained.
Bernhard willingly uploaded his DNA to GEDmatch, a global database where anyone can provide their DNA.
The match came back with answers. The man born as Bernhard is Jane's uncle.
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"We realized, that since he is a full uncle, he has a full sibling out there, somewhere, who is Apache Junction Jane Doe's father," Binder said.
The problem is, he doesn't know much about his brother.
"What we don't know is the age of that sibling, if they were older or younger than Bernhard, whether they were adopted to the United States, who they were adopted by and how that person has a connection to Apache Junction Jane Doe, although we do know that, that has to be her father," Binder said.
There hasn't been a break in the case as far as finding her possible father.
"We tried to locate any siblings with birth certificates with maybe the same biological parents on them. But we just haven't had any luck," Bourgeois said.
Now, Bourgeois and Binder are on the search for a man who is half African American and German, possibly adopted by a military family with ties to New York. At some point, this man met the mother of Apache Junction Jane Doe.
A genetic map with international roots, and a destination in Arizona.
"We're farther along in this case than we've ever been and we've worked so hard and Apache Junction Police Department has worked so hard, and we really hope that this is the year that we'll finally identify Apache Junction Jane Doe," Binder said.
If you know anything about Jane's biological father based on the information provided, contact the Apache Junction Police Department at 480-982-8260, or visit https://dnadoeproject.org/.