A partnership with a California nonprofit organization has brought new details in the case of unidentified human remains found almost two decades ago in Gregg County.
The DNA Doe Project recently released new information about skeletal remains found May 21, 2002, in the Liberty City area. The organization said it has narrowed the age of the woman to between 17 and 25 years old and says she was white with an unrepaired cleft palate.
According to the group, the woman might have relatives in Raleigh County, West Virginia; Patrick County, Virginia; or Surry County, North Carolina. Her possible relatives’ surnames include Bowman, Niten/Knighton, Grey and Jessup.
The DNA Doe Project released the updated information on the 19th anniversary of the discovery of the remains.
Gregg County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Josh Tubb said the woman’s skeletal remains were found by geologists who were sent by the state to do surveying ahead of a project to widen Texas 135 in Liberty City. While they were working, they found the remains, which had been there for some time. Tubb said the team found only a partial skeleton and that the remains, which could have been there for two years, had been bleached by the sun.
Tubb also said there was no way for investigators to determine the manner of death.
“She could have passed away of natural causes,” he said.
The sheriff’s office gained first-hand knowledge of The DNA Doe Project’s work a couple years ago when trying to identify a woman who had been known as “Lavender Doe” after she was discovered in October 2006 on an oil lease off Fritz Swanson Road north of Texas 31.
Tubb said investigator Lt. Eddie Hope was referred by a third party to the DNA Doe Project and became familiar with its work.
“He reached out to them and researched what they do, and that’s how he made the decision to utilize their assistance,” Tubb said. “He is in almost-weekly to daily contact with the representative from the DNA Doe Project.”
The DNA Doe Project announced in January 2019 that it had identified Lavender Doe. The following month, the sheriff’s office released her name — Dana Lynn Dodd. Dodd’s family traveled to Longview from out of state in September 2019 for a ceremony to lay to rest the woman who had finally been identified.
In December 2020, Joseph Wayne Burnette was sentenced to 50 years for Dodd’s slaying and another 50 years for the slaying of another woman in Longview.
Tubb said it took the DNA Doe Project such a short time to get DNA sequenced for Lavender Doe — a month to maybe six weeks — that it spoke to “their practices and the efficiency of what they do.”
He said some of the remains of the woman found in 2002 were sent to the DNA Doe Project, and the group had been working on it for about three months. In that time, the organization was able to through DNA sequencing to narrow her genealogy to the North Carolina/West Virginia area and is tracking down several possible family matches, Tubb said.
“We’re not too proud to ask for help whenever someone is able to help, because ultimately our goal is to bring closure to families who are missing a loved one and to identify these individuals,” Tubb said.
“It’s all about them. It’s all about the families. It has nothing to do with our pride,” he said. “Anything we can do to speed up a case and further it along — in any case — that’s what we’re going to do.”
Tubb also credited the DNA Doe Project with being focused on its mission.
“A lot of people don’t realize the DNA Doe Project is a nonprofit organization,” he said. “They do it for the victims and the victims’ families — for the John Does and Jane Does and their families. It’s truly a selfless thing they are doing.”
Anyone with information about the woman whose remains were found in 2002 is urged to contact the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office at (903) 236-8400 or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.