The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has sent a bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the southern United States in an effort to identify the remains of a woman found in Marion County in 2007, and who police say was likely the first victim of alleged serial killer Shawn Grate.
The bulletin was sent out Tuesday morning by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Marion County Sheriff Tim Bailey to law enforcement agencies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, according to a news release from the Attorney General’s Office.
Bailey told the Times-Gazette Tuesday that police are pulling photos of missing persons from the southern United States and are hoping to again interview Grate to see if he may recognize one of the people as his victim.
"I hate to say this, but we’re almost entirely at the mercy of Shawn Grate helping us identify her," Bailey said.
The bones of the woman, referred to Jane Doe, were found on Victory Road in Marion on March 10, 2007 and she has remained unidentified since the discovery. The female’s age has been estimated at between 15 and 30 years old.
Bones were sent to the University of South Florida for oxygen isotope analysis, which, according to the bulletin, indicate that the victim, was likely born in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia or Florida.
The analysis also indicated that the woman spent the last five years of her life in Texas, Florida or the Caribbean.
The exact time of the Jane Doe’s death is not clear. Grate told police that he killed the woman around 2004 and 2005. Grate claimed to police that the woman was trying to sell him magazines, and said her name was possibly Diane or Dana, Bailey has said in previous reports.
Bailey said the isotope analysis allowed investigator to focus their search on the southern part of the United States. Previously police thought the woman may have been from Europe.
"We have followed hundreds of leads all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, Israel, Europe, and we got nowhere," Bailey said.
Bailey said part of the difficulty of the case has been the number of years that have passed since the discovery of the bones. Some records including employment records and banking records have been destroyed, or officers handling other missing persons cases have retired, Bailey said.
"We thought we might have located her employer," Bailey said, but that lead came up empty.
A BCI forensic artist previously made a reconstruction of the Jane Doe’s face, and released it to the public November 2017. The woman was believed to be between 15-30 years old, between 5’3" and 5’9" tall and weighed between 100 to 150 pounds.
"The victim is believed to have died at the hands of a cold-blooded killer who later went on to kill others, and the fact that she has been unidentified all this time makes her case even more tragic," said DeWine in a news release. "By sending this bulletin, we hope this case will get more attention outside of Ohio and that someone will recognize a face they haven’t seen in more than a decade."
Grate, 41, was sentenced to death Friday in Ashland County for the aggravated murders of Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Stanley, whose bodies were found in an Ashland house on Sept. 13, 2016. The bodies were discovered after Grate was arrested when a third woman who he had abducted was able to call 911 on his cell phone when Grate fell asleep.
Police have said Grate subsequently confessed to the murders of two other Richland County women in addition to the Marion County Jane Doe. The Richland County Prosecutor’s Office is currently reviewing the Richland County cases.
Anyone with information on the female's identity is urged to call the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 740-845-2406 or Marion County Sheriff's Detective Christy Utley at 740-382-8244 ext. 5120.
— Dylan Sams can be reached at 419-281-0581, ext. 240, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dylan__sams.