Identified: Delta Dawn

          Welcome to the last post of 2020, everyone. It’s been a real journey – this year has been garbage. That’s no surprise to anyone, of course. Because I’ve spent a year digging into such dark topics and documenting them here, while living in a world that seems to be going up in flames, I thought it would be nice to end on a Doe case that has recently been resolved. Delta Dawn has been on my list of cases to cover since I started this blog, but Doe cases that involve children are very hard to research on an emotional level. Now, I’m glad I held off, because Delta Dawn has her name back. And it’s Alisha Heinrich. Let’s Explore.

The Discovery

          On December 5, 1982, a trucker reported seeing the body of a woman floating in the waters of the Dog River, beneath a bridge on Interstate 10 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. When officers arrived on the scene, the woman’s body had vanished along the river’s currents. As they searched the area for any clues, they made a gut wrenching discovery. At the foot of the bridge lay a tiny, broken body in the weeds that lined the river. The toddler was estimated to be about eighteen months old based on how many teeth had grown in, her height, and her weight. She stood at about 2’ 5” tall and weighed 20 to 25 pounds. She had blonde hair. She was found wearing a pink and white dress along with a diaper.
          Estimates showed that the toddler had been deceased for 36 to 48 hours prior to her discovery. I don’t normally put warnings in the middle of posts, but what comes next was especially difficult to research, so I feel the need to say that things are going to get very disturbing. An autopsy showed signs of the toddler being smothered before she entered the water. After this apparent smothering attempt, she was apparently thrown over the bridge and into the river. Where she apparently drowned, because water was found in her lungs. It’s awful, so awful, to think of someone doing something so terrible to a child.

The Investigation

          The investigation began as officers looked into reports of a woman and child walking along the same interstate a few days prior. She matched the physical description of the body seen floating down the river, and reportedly was wearing the same clothes. Truckers, along with a local woman who had been listening to her CB radio that night, told officers that the woman had clearly been distressed. It was obvious to these people that something had happened to make this woman so distrustful, as she turned down rides and offers to call for help. Due to the fact that the body in the river matched this woman’s description, initial theories centered on her jumping off the bridge with the child in her arms, or throwing the child over in the belief that she had perished from some previous act of violence. Divers and searchers were unable to find the woman who the trucker had originally notified police about.

(The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reconstruction for Delta Dawn.

The Breakthrough

          The breakthrough in the case went public on December 4, 2020. The reason for the breakthrough? If you read this blog, you probably know where this is headed: genetic genealogy. Genealogists were able to run the Delta Dawn’s DNA through open-source catalogues that store DNA from people all over the country (if not world). From there, they were able to identify distant relatives, build out a family tree, and begin to zero in on a location. As the familial connections began to grow stronger, the investigators were led to Missouri, where more traditional avenues of investigation took over. Various family members were spoken to about whether they had a relative who went missing around the time Delta Dawn did, whether they had lost track of any relative who was near the same age and resembled the Doe.
          And the family members had.

(Photos of Alisha (left) and Gwendolyn (right) prior to November 1982.
via WLOX)

          Alisha Heinrich and Gwendolyn Clemons had last been seen on Thanksgiving Day near Joplin, Missouri. Alisha had been 18 months and Gwendolyn had been 23 at the time of their disappearances. They were allegedly headed south to Florida, traveling with a man that Gwendolyn had been dating at the time. The man returned to Missouri with neither Alisha nor Gwendolyn. He now, of course, suspected of murdering Alisha. No sign of Gwendolyn has ever been found – it’s possible that she was the body that was originally sighted in the river, but we have no way of knowing at this point. However, due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, and the fact that the man has since died, he is not being named publicly.
          So now, at least, Delta Dawn has gotten her name and her history back. Her family has some small pieces in a much larger puzzle. There are still so many questions that need to be answered with this case – who killed Alisha, and why? What happened to Gwendolyn? Was she killed, too? If so, why hasn’t she been found as well? But now that Investigators have this breakthrough as a starting point, they have a strong foundation for a new, better-equipped investigation into the circumstances surrounding Alisha’s death and her mother’s disappearance.

Investigating Agencies

          Despite Alisha having her name back, this case is far from closed. Alisha’s mother is still missing – it is unknown whether she is currently alive or dead. Hopefully this breakthrough is just the first step in reviving this cold case. If you or anyone you know has information relating to this case, please reach out to the proper authorities. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department can be reached by phone at 1-228-769-3063 in reference to NamUs case number 12191 and NCMEC case number 1103997.


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