Murder of Tammy Alexander
School portrait, circa 1978
Tammy Jo Alexander
November 2, 1963
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
|Disappeared||First half of 1979|
Brooksville, Florida, United States
|Died||November 9, 1979 (aged 16)|
|Cause of death||Homicide (gunshot wounds to head and back)|
|Body discovered||Off U.S. Route 20 in Caledonia Coordinates: (approximate)|
|Resting place||Greenmount Cemetery, Dansville, New York, US|
|Other names||Caledonia Jane Doe, "Cali Doe"|
|Known for||Former unidentified victim of homicide|
|Height||5 ft 3 in (1.60 m) (approximate)|
|Weight||120 lb (54 kg) (approximate)|
Tammy Jo Alexander (previously known as the Caledonia Jane Doe or "Cali Doe") was a homicide victim found in Caledonia, New York, on November 10, 1979. She had been shot twice sometime during the previous night and left in a field just off U.S. Route 20 near the Genesee River on the eastern end of town. Her body was discovered the next day, although she would remain unidentified until 2015, over 35 years later.
Tan lines on her upper body led investigators to believe that she had come to the Caledonia area from a distant, warmer locale. While most evidence at the scene had been washed away by heavy rain that night, forensic palynology, or the analysis of pollen on her clothing, suggested she had spent time in southern California, Arizona, Florida or northern Mexico prior to her death. Later analysis of isotopes in her bones would lead further support to this geographical clue.
During the years that she remained unidentified, her case was well publicized by the Livingston County Sheriff's Office, which continued to investigate the case, processing thousands of leads and tips from the public. John York, one of the first deputies to respond to the original crime scene, made the case a priority during his quarter-century tenure as sheriff. Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas at one point confessed to the crime, but like many other such high-profile crimes he claimed to be responsible for, the confession was not considered credible. Alexander was buried as Jane Doe in a cemetery in Dansville, a village on the southern part of the county.
Alexander was finally identified as the result of efforts to locate her in the 2010s by a school friend of hers from Brooksville, Florida. Unable to find her on social media or through other conventional means, she turned to Alexander's family who told her that Tammy, who often ran away from home, had not been seen or heard from since the late 1970s. In 2014 they filed a missing persons report with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office; shortly afterwards a CPA and artist who had painted one of the reconstructions of the unidentified girl's face saw the report online and, noting the similarities, contacted the Livingston County sheriff. A mitochondrial DNA match with one of Alexander's living relatives was made early in 2015.
Death and discovery
On the morning of November 10, 1979, a farmer in Caledonia, New York, 23 miles (37 km) southwest of the city of Rochester, saw red clothing in one of his corn fields near the Genesee River, about 20 feet (6 m) from the south side of U.S. Route 20, and 0.5 miles (0.8 km) west of Route 20's split with New York State Route 5. He went to investigate, believing that he had spotted a trespassing hunter. Instead, in the field he found the body of a young girl.
The body, later named "Caledonia Jane Doe" or "Cali Doe" by investigators, was fully clothed and showed no signs of sexual assault. She had died from a severe hemorrhage caused by two gunshot wounds, one to the head over the right eye and one to the back. The wound to the head indicated she had apparently not turned or flinched, as is common when one is shot in the head. Instead, the entry wound suggested complete, if horrified, surprise. Her pockets had been turned inside out, suggesting that any identification she carried had been removed.
The autopsy indicated that she had first been shot in the head while next to the road bordering the cornfield, at or near a blood spot found on the ground. Her body was then dragged into the cornfield, where she was shot again in the back and left for dead. Heavy rains on the night of her death washed away much potential forensic evidence.
Tammy was believed to have been between the ages of 13 and 19 (born sometime between 1958 and 1967). She was estimated to be 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) and 120 pounds (54 kg). She had brown eyes and wavy, light brown shoulder-length hair that had been frosted in the front about four months prior to her death and was growing out. Her hair appeared to have been recently dyed from blonde to brown. Her toenails were painted with coral-colored polish.
She had visible tan lines from a halter top or bikini, suggesting that she may have come from a region with abundant October–November sunshine, as sun tanning beds were uncommon in the 1970s, and upstate New York is not generally warm or sunny enough for such tanning during that period. There were freckles on the backs of her shoulders and acne on her face and chest.
The teeth were in natural condition, with no restorations or fillings. It did not appear as if she had ever received dental care. Some of her permanent first and second molars suffered from severe dental caries (cavities and decay). Consistent with her young appearance, none of her permanent third molars (wisdom teeth) had erupted. Her blood type was A-. Several hours before her death, she had eaten sweet corn, potatoes, and boiled, canned ham. This was possibly from a diner in nearby Lima, where a waitress had seen her eating with a man.
Clothing and jewelry
The girl was wearing a red nylon-lined man's windbreaker jacket with black stripes down the arms, marked inside with the label "Auto Sports Products, Inc.", a boy's multicolored plaid button-up shirt with collar, tan corduroy pants (size 7), blue knee socks, white bra (size 32C), and blue panties. She wore brown rippled-sole shoes. The red Auto Sports Products jacket was produced as a one-time promotional item and could not be traced after distribution.
She also wore a silver necklace with three small turquoise stones. The necklace had a homemade appearance and resembled replica Native American jewelry made in the southwestern United States. Attached to the girl's pants' front belt loops were two metal keychains, one shaped like a heart with a key-shaped cutout and inscribed with the words "He who holds the Key can open my heart", the other shaped like a key meant to fit the cutout in the heart. The keychains were sold at vending machines along the New York state Thruway, leading investigators to conclude that she and her killer had traveled that route.
Police believe the murder weapon to have been a .38-caliber handgun. Investigators located a spent slug in the dirt underneath the unidentified girl's body, which they compared forensically to hundreds of other bullets fired from confiscated weapons. Despite investigators' efforts to trace weapons from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Mexico, the slug has not been matched to a specific gun.
The subject seen with Alexander was a white male between the heights of five feet eight and five feet nine inches tall. He was seen driving a tan station wagon and wore black wire-rimmed glasses. The man has been stated to be a "person of interest" in the case and police seek his identity.
In 1984, Henry Lee Lucas confessed to the murder of the unidentified girl, without identifying her. Investigators found no sufficient evidence to support the confession. The case received national attention, appearing on such television shows as America's Most Wanted. Later in the 1980s, John York, who had been one of the first Livingston County deputy sheriffs on the scene in 1979, was elected sheriff. He served in the job until 2013, always ensuring the investigation remained active.
In the hope that she could eventually be identified by a DNA match with any living relatives, the body was exhumed in September 2005 to extract DNA. The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification was able to produce nuclear STR (nucDNA) and mitochondrial (mtDNA) profiles of her DNA via forensic DNA profiling. Her DNA profiles were stored in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database that allows U.S. public crime laboratories to compare and exchange DNA profiles in order to identify criminal suspects and crime victims.
When she was exhumed, several of her teeth were sent for mineralogical and forensic isotope analysis, to connect the composition of her teeth with the composition and mineral content of regional drinking water supplies around North America, allowing investigators to determine where she may have been raised. Early results on the dental 18O/16O isotopic oxygen ratio indicated that she may have spent her early years in the south/southwest region of the United States.
In 2006, after the 2005 exhumation of the body, forensic palynology was conducted on the clothing worn by the victim. Paul Chambers, a recently hired investigator in the Monroe County, New York medical examiner's office asked for and received permission to send her clothing to the Palynology Laboratory at Texas A&M University. Among the types of pollen found on the clothing by the Texas A&M University researchers were grains from Casuarina (Australian pine, or "she oak"), Quercus (oak), Picea (spruce), and Betula (birch). The clothing pollen grains were compared to a control sample of pollen grains taken directly from the rural New York site where the body had been found in 1979.
Oak grows widely all over the United States, and spruce and birch grow in New York, among many places in the United States. However, no oak, spruce, or birch pollen grains were found in the control sample, and neither spruce nor birch trees were found growing near the body dump site. The spruce and birch pollen on the unidentified body came from species common in mountainous areas of California.
Australian pine is an invasive genus of tree that grows in a limited number of locations in North America: south Florida; south Texas; parts of Mexico; the campuses of the University of Arizona and Arizona State University; and three regions in California: the North Bay of San Francisco, the San Luis Obispo area, and the San Diego area. The tree cannot survive the autumn and winter seasons in the temperate climate of western New York, where the body was found. Alexander and her clothing could not have acquired the Casuarina pollen grains at the dump site.
Researchers believed the southern California and San Diego region to be the best geographical pollen print match location for the grains from the clothing. Based on the pollen evidence and the girl's visible tan lines, forensic researchers suggested that she may have been living in the southwestern United States near San Diego, California, then traveled (perhaps by hitchhiking) through the Sierra Nevada mountains where spruce and birch grow, passing through Reno, Nevada, and then traveled across the country to New York.
A 2012 reexamination of the grains concluded, once again, that they could have only originated from California, Arizona or Florida.
Tammy Alexander was formally identified in 2015, 35 years, 2 months and 15 days after the discovery of her body. A high school classmate who had known her in Brooksville, Florida, was trying to find her by social media. She was eventually led to Alexander's half-sister, Pamela Dyson, of Panama City. Alexander had often run away from home, but Dyson found that no one in her family knew anything of Alexander's whereabouts since one of those departures sometime between 1977 and 1979.
Unable to find any trace of her any other way, Dyson and the classmate became concerned that Alexander might have fallen victim to a crime at some point since then. In August 2014, Hernando County sheriff's office told them no missing persons report had been filed. (Dyson, a child at the time, disputes this, saying her parents did indeed make a report, but speculates that given Alexander's history of running away and returning, police may not have taken it seriously). They filed a new report.
Shortly after it was posted in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), Carl Koppelman, a California artist who has created reconstructions from unidentified corpses, came across the report on Alexander when he reviewed new reports for WebSleuths.com, a website he moderates where volunteers attempt to solve cold cases, including those of unidentified corpses. In 2010 he had sketched the Caledonia Jane Doe, and in September 2014, when he saw the new listing for Alexander, he immediately recognized that Alexander and the victim were the same person. He emailed the Livingston County sheriff's office (with copies sent to the NamUs regional administrator, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office tip line) to tell them of the strong resemblance. In January 2015 the Monroe County medical examiner's office found that mitochondrial DNA from the body matched that of Dyson. A week later the Livingston County sheriff, Thomas Dougherty, announced at a news conference that the body had been identified after 35 years.
Dyson said the family would keep Alexander buried in the Dansville cemetery where she had been buried for so many years, and hold services there for her. "I'm truly glad for the closure," she said. "But it hurts to know she died that way. It's terrible, nobody should have to be shot and dragged out into the woods."
The Dougherty Funeral Home, in Livonia, New York, stated it paid to have the "Jane Doe" headstone removed and replaced with one reading "Tammy Jo Alexander". A public ceremony took place on June 10, 2015, where the new headstone, displaying the victim's name and lifespan, was revealed. Approximately one hundred family and community members attended.
Alexander's half-sister, Pamela Dyson, believes that Alexander was leaving a turbulent household, one in which a pill-addicted mother could fly into volatile rages and temper tantrums. "She did prescription drugs," Dyson said of her mother, Barbara. "She was suicidal. I think she had issues back then that they didn't diagnose." Alexander's mother, Barbara Jenkins, died on January 17, 1998. Her obituary accurately listed Tammy Alexander as deceased.
Alexander, who was a waitress at a truck stop, had a history of running away. A woman who was a friend of Alexander when both were teenagers has said that the two once traveled all the way to California together, riding with truckers. The friend's parents then paid for airline tickets for their return, Dyson said.
Until the realization that "Cali" was Tammy Jo Alexander, Dyson lived with the belief that her sister had escaped her home and made a new life somewhere with a husband and children. She imagined Alexander in a serene and loving household, a domesticity representing the polar opposite of her young life. "I thought she just wanted to go away and start all over," Dyson said. Dyson also urged family members of missing people to enter the subjects into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, as such action assisted with Alexander's identification.
Speaking of Alexander's identification, officer York, who retired two years prior, stated, "We knew this day would come." He referred to the event as "bittersweet." Dougherty, his successor, said the investigation would now focus on finding out who killed Alexander. "We've always said one of the biggest parts of solving this case is knowing the victim," Dougherty told the media. "This case is burning hot ... We're going to be working it harder than ever." York later stated that more than 10,000 leads had since been investigated in the case.
The FBI has also posted billboards throughout the country as an attempt to gain information from the public. The Livingston County Sheriff Department also stated that many more tips have been submitted since the victim's identification and had also stated that they had developed knowledge of the events that led up to Alexander's arrival in Caledonia. A "significant" lead was reported by a trucker from Tennessee after he had heard a radio broadcast detailing the case. The department has also released information that Alexander had ties to a former "prison ministry" in Young Harris, Georgia that specialized in working with individuals "on probation or parole."
Three persons of interest have been identified through DNA obtained on Alexander's clothing. As of January 2016[update], officers plan to "learn more" about the men that had previous contact with the victim before her death.
In the media
In April 2016, filmmaker Giovanni Alfonzetti announced the production of his documentary about the Tammy Jo Alexander investigation. He also set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for the film.
In May 2016, two news organizations in Rochester, New York partnered to produce a podcast detailing Tammy Jo Alexander's murder and the ongoing investigation, called Finding Tammy Jo. The multi-episode podcast is hosted by Veronica Volk from WXXI News and Gary Craig from The Democrat and Chronicle, who spent a year co-reporting on the case, interviewing potential witnesses, law enforcement, and Alexander's family and friends.
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- Murder of Michelle Garvey, a teenage girl murdered in 1982 and identified in 2014.
- Murder of Tammy Vincent, a teenage girl murdered in 1979 and identified in 2007.
- Murder of Anjelica Castillo, a toddler murdered in 1991 and identified in 2013.
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