July 11th, 1995 was a warm Tuesday. A fisherman was going about his business in East Caln Township in Chester County, PA. His sights were set on the nearby Valley Creek. What he found was something he never expected: a large package that was wrapped in plastic – later determined to be a green trash bag. Upon further investigation, he discovered a wheeled maroon suitcase wrapped in tape and wire. Inside the suitcase was a quilt, bed sheets, a denim shirt, and a garment bag. It would later be determined that the suitcase and quilt were available at K-Mart stores. Inside the garment bag, the fisherman discovered the top half of a body – head, arms, and torso. The fisherman immediately called the police.
The deceased was not recognizable due to decomposition, which was sped up by the summer heat and the water from Valley Creek. An autopsy determined she was killed three to seven days prior to discover. A cause of death was unable to be determined, but there were no apparent signs of strangulation or sexual assault. However, the level of decomposition and putrefaction of the body could have hidden such signs.
Six months later and 53 miles away, the other half of the body was found. On January 26, 1996, a jogger in Cores Creek State Park found a right leg. There was no skin from the thigh to the ankle. It is suspected that the removal of the skin was due to wildlife activity. Near the discovery site was a shallow grave containing the left leg (minus the foot). In the shallow grave, another green trash bag was found. In it was more women’s clothing, though specific items vary widely depending on the reporting source.
Investigators attempted to use DNA to match the legs to the torso, but tests came back inconclusive, likely due to deterioration of the body. The right leg, however, fits into the hip socket of the torso perfectly, and forensic experts agree that they are halves of the same body. The torso and leg also showed signs of small cut marks from a sharp instrument. These marks aligned when leg and torso were fit together.
Based on the state of the deceased, the accuracy of their attributes vary widely. It was confirmed that the deceased possessed female sex organs (reminder: we can only speak to the physical attributes, as this person is not here to define their gender for us). Their complexion was fair, and their race is speculated to be caucasian or hispanic/latinx. The deceased had brown hair and brown eyes. Their ears were pierced. Beyond these facts, things get a little more nebulous. As with most Does, the estimated height and weight cover quite the range. Suitcase Jane Doe was estimated to weigh between 120 and 140 pounds. Their height was estimated to be between 4’11” and 5’3”. The most difficult attribute to pin down for this Doe seems to be the age. NamUs states the estimated range as 18 to 40. That makes it vastly more difficult to try to rule out potential identities.
Clothing & Personal Items
Suitcase Doe was found wearing a medium-wash denim shirt. It had a collar and long sleeves. This shirt featured copper-colored buttons (I can’t find out any reports of what the material of these buttons was – could be metal or plastic) and lighter stripe of denim around the upper chest area. The brand of the shirt was Theo. They were also wearing a denim skirt. No jewelry was found on or near the body.
Whether it is directly connected to this Doe or not, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the legend of the twin tunnels. I’m going to keep this brief, though, because our focus needs to be on the Doe. They deserve more than being relegated to a supporting role in an urban legend. Most of the mythos revolving around the Twin Tunnels deals with hauntings from two supposed (and unconfirmed) suicides. The first is a young mother who supposedly hanged herself with her baby in her arms – she dropped the baby, who also died. The other suicide is allegedly a man who hanged himself on a wire that connects two of the tunnels. I really doubt that the proximity of the twin tunnels has anything to do with Suitcase Doe. The only thing I can think of is perhaps the perpetrator knew of its creepy legend and was hoping that people would attribute her death to its creepiness as a sort of red herring.
Currently Ruled Out
According to NamUs, law enforcement has ruled out five missing persons as being Suitcase Doe. I’m going to give a brief write-up of each here, and may elaborate on these cases in future posts.
Jane Kelsey was last seen in Syracuse, NY on August 22, 1994. At the time of her disappearance, she was 27. She weighs around 120 lbs and stands somewhere between 5’3” and 5’5”. Her race is listed as caucasian. She has brown hair and blue or blue-hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a white hoodie, black jeans, and black high-top sneakers. She was also wearing two gold rings. At the time of her disappearance, she had just rejected a marriage proposal from her ex boyfriend.
Nicole Russo was last seen in Brick, NJ on March 12, 1995. At the time of her disappearance, she was 16. She weighs around 98 lbs and stood at 5’0”. Her race is listed as caucasian. She had dark brown or black hair at the time of her disappearance, though friends and family have said she tended to dye it. Her eyes are hazel. Nicole has a tattoo of a “fighting Irishman” on the inside of her right ankle – though I cannot find pictures to confirm, I suspect it is similar to the Notre Dame icon.
Sarah Estes of Clark County, Kentucky is a different story. She went missing in 1988 along with her husband. She resurfaced 30 years later at a hospital in Mississippi, where she reached out to her family after a cancer diagnosis. Her husband – Mitchell Estes, who was wanted for murder – forced her to flee to avoid his charges.
Jodi Huisentruit of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa is by far the most well-known case on this rule-out list. At the time of her disappearance, Jodi was an anchor for a local news station. She went missing in the early morning hours of June 27, 1995, at age 27. There were signs of a struggle near her car, which was parked outside of her apartment building. Jodi is white and has blonde hair and brown eyes.
Tina Finley of Benewah County, Idaho is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of indigenous people. She was last seen on March 8, 1988, at age 25. She was wearing brown pants, a gray jacket, and high heels (color unknown). Some of her belongings were later found on the side of US Highway 95. Tina is native american, and has brown hair and brown eyes. She weighs around 135 pounds and stands somewhere between 5’3” and 5’7”.
First things first – this is all speculation based on armchair research. I am in no way a professional investigator. After pouring through many missing persons files on NamUs, I’ve found a few cases that stand out as being similar to Suitcase Doe. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of cases that partially match the profile we have of Suitcase Doe, as the provided estimates cover quite a range.
I’ll start with the weakest of possible matches that I found: Laura Louise Williams. Laura went missing from Connolly, New York on July 25, 1994. She was 22 years old at the time. She stands at 5’3” and weighs around 130-145 lbs. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a light shirt and blue denim shorts, and was carrying a beige duffle-style bag. My main issue with this match is that Laura had a multiple sclerosis diagnosis and I feel like the investigators would have found evidence of that.
Thylea Chisholm is another possibility, but a slightly weak one. She went missing from Chesterfield County, Virginia on June 18, 1995. Her 21st birthday was the next day. Thylea stands around 5’1” or 5’2”, and weighs between 130 and 140 lbs. Thylea is white, with brown hair and brown eyes. She has not been heard from since the night of her disappearance, and has a history of addictive behavior. She fits the general attributes of Suitcase Doe.
Frances Morales is by far the best match I’ve found as of writing this post. She was last seen in Millville or Bridgeton, New Jersey on April 4, 1990. She was 27 years old. She was not reported missing until November of 1992. We don’t know a lot about her disappearance, but authorities have said they believe foul play may be involved. Frances was last seen wearing button-fly jeans and a casual top. Frances is a hispanic female that has brown hair and brown eyes. Her ears are pierced and she has two scars – one on her left knee and one on her left leg. She stands at 5’3” and weighs around 125 pounds.
If you have any information, or if you have found a missing persons case that aligns with this case, reach out to the appropriate agencies. Dental records, fingerprints, and DNA for Suitcase Doe are all on file and the case is still open. The Pennsylvania State Police maintains jurisdiction. The PSP point of contact for this case is Trooper Henry Callithen. Trooper Callithen can be reached by phone at 610-268-2022 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suitcase Doe’s case number is J03-660370.