|January 2010, Vidocq Society Journal, Boulder Jane Doe Identified as Dorothy Gay Howard, by Paul Plevakas
A young woman found murdered 54 years ago outside Boulder, Colorado was identified this year as Dorothy Gay Howard. Mitochondrial DNA comparison with the victim and Dorothy Howard’s sister confirmed her identity according to Sheriff Joe Pelle of the Boulder, Colorado Sheriff’s Office. Frank Bender's sculpture of her predicted likeness matched closely.
On April 8, 1954, Howard’s naked and battered body was discovered by two hikers along the banks of Boulder Creek near Boulder Falls, eight miles west of Boulder, Colorado. The body was disfigured by wild animals and no identification was found. An investigation by the sheriff of who the women was, and what had happened to her, turned up nothing. Sympathy for the victim led the people of Boulder to collect donations for her burial, shortly after.
A gravestone was erected at her grave that reads, “Jane Doe, April 1954, Age about 20 years."
In 1996, Silvia Pettem, a historian, columnist and author came across the grave marked “Boulder Jane Doe” at a “Meet the Spirits” event in Columbia Cemetery. Pettem became focused on the unidentified person buried beneath the gravestone. “I was intrigued by the mystery of the unidentified woman, but when I learned that she had been a murder victim and her killer not only took her life but also her identity, I became indignant that Jane Doe was buried without her name.”
Pettem contacted the Boulder Sheriff to request that they revisit the Boulder Jane Doe case. To persuade the sheriff to reopen the case, Pettem raised funds for exhumation and forensic work. She also contacted the Vidocq Society. In early 2004, Vidocq Society Doctors Richard Froede, Walter Birkby, and Robert Goldberg, assisted in exhumation, and autopsy of the skeletal remains. Vidocq founding member Frank Bender produced a forensic reconstructive sculpture from the skull in the Spring of 2005.
Michelle Marie Fowler, Howard’s great-niece had been searching for her great aunt and followed events on the website www.boulderjanedoe.com. A person thought to be the murder victim was identified as Katherine Farrand Dyer. However, Dyer she was later discovered living in Australia. With Boulder Jane Doe’s identity again uncertain, Fowler contacted the lead investigator Detective Steve Ainsworth and presented the information she had on her great aunt.
In February of 2005, a nuclear DNA profile of the victim was completed by Dr. Todd W. Fenton and his students at Forensic Anthropology Laboratory at Michigan State University. DNA comparison was done with a sample taken from Howard’s younger sister Marlene Howard Ashman and a DNA profile of the victim completed in 2005 establishing a match and verifying the identity of Boulder Jane Doe. The family was notified on October 23, 2009.
[NOTE: The nuclear DNA profile was done at MSU, but not by Dr. Fenton. And the profile used in comparison with Dorothy's sister was mtDNA completed by Dr. Terry Melton of Mitotyping Technologies, LLC.]
Howard’s younger sister Marlene Howard Ashman said Howard was extremely strong-willed and lived quite a life in her 18 years, including marrying twice. "Once she decided on a course, it would take heaven and earth to stop her."
Small, attractive, with blond hair, Howard was the oldest of three sisters born in the Texas Panhandle. The parents moved the family to Phoenix in 1942 for "greener pastures."
At age 15, Howard married her first husband with her parents' permission, but got divorced and remarried unbeknown to her family. The family found out about the second marriage years after
Howard disappeared. The last her family heard from her, Howard was working as a live-in nanny in Phoenix. The family reported her missing when she didn't show up to take one of her sisters to the movies.
Because Howard was strong willed, and had run away from home once before, Ashman said the family thought she didn't want to see them again. "We always waited to hear from her," she said. Ashman still has a letter that her sister wrote to her parents soon before she disappeared. "She just said, 'Here's some money to help out. She signed it, 'Love always, Dot.'"
Case Still Open
Dorothy’s killer has not been identified and the case remains open. Detective Ainsworth has built a circumstantial case against Harvey Glatman, a serial killer known as the "The Lonely Hearts Killer" who admitted killing three women between 1957 and 1958 in California.
Glatman was arrested on October 27, 1958 for the assault on Lorraine Vigil. After his arrest, police found a toolbox full of photos depicting women tied and gagged. Some were clothed, some not. Most, Glatman took himself. When asked whether these other women were still alive told police, "Yes, unless they've been run over."
Glatman showed the Los Angeles Police the location of the women’s bodies. He gave police a detailed statement of how the crimes were committed. Glatman is suspected of killing more women than the three he admitted to. Glatman gave accurate details of his victims, remembering their names and hometowns. When asked about the one of his victims, Glatman told police, "I didn't mark her name down and never saw her again." Detective Ainsworth believes this victim could have been Dorothy Howard.
Detective Ainsworth called Frank Bender after identification was made, and said, “All along, you said that when she would be identified, she would have blue eyes, and you were right!”
Glatman was found guilty of first degree murder and executed in the gas chamber of San Quentin State Prison on September 18, 1959.
For Dorothy Howard's family, the searching is over. Rather than bringing comfort, learning Dorothy's fate has brought new anguish. "I'm sorry in a way that my parents never found out what happened to her," Ashman said, "but I'm also relieved they didn't find out how she died."
Ashman has a message for the people of Boulder, who buried her sister and watched over her. "Please thank them for taking care of her. They must be very nice people."
This case was featured in an episode of “America’s Most Wanted."