A teenager is found murdered in a relatively peaceful area of northern California, her body dumped behind a restaurant. A search for the victim's identity comes up empty but police won't give up in their quest to give the girl her name back.
Will a forensic reconstruction of the victim's face lead investigators to a much-needed breakthrough?
48 Hours correspondent Harold Dow reports.
"It haunts me a lot. I think it haunts everybody that has worked on this case," says Sgt. Scott Dudek of the Alameda County Sheriff's office.
Like any good homicide detective, Sgt. Dudek can sometimes get a little obsessed with his cases. But there's one case that troubles him more than any other.
A 22-year veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff's department in northern California, Dudek had solved his share of gruesome crimes. But murders are rare in the suburban community of Castro Valley.
"It's a beautiful community. It's about 75,000 people, middle- to upper middle-class mostly. Not a lot of crime; not a lot of violent crime especially," Sgt. Dudek explains.
So what he saw the night of May 1, 2003, was especially shocking, even to a seasoned detective: the body of a young girl, murdered, stuffed into a trash bag, and discarded behind a restaurant.
The body was left behind a tree by a cyclone fence. "She had been dead for about 10 days so it was fairly well decomposed," says Dudek.
And the way she died, with a rag in her throat, suggests someone may have wanted to silence her.
Asked if he thought she may have seen something, Dudek says, "There had to be something very, very terrible, obviously that went on for her ultimately to be killed. But maybe she was a witness to something."
There was an unknown killer on the loose and police needed to find him. But first they had to identify the young girl who lay unclaimed at the morgue. Without knowing her identity, it would be impossible to find out who wanted her dead or why.
What usually happens when police find an unidentified murder victim?
"Normally, for us, within the first 24 to 48 hours we know who they are either by looking at missing persons reports or having a parent contact us," says Dudek.
But sadly, no one seemed to be looking for her. Because her body was so badly decomposed, a local artist did the best she could to give her a face. They also gave her a name: "Jane Doe." Police had to rely on her autopsy for other clues.
Police got ten perfect prints off both her hands. Investigators guessed the girl, 5'1" and 110 lbs., was in her early teens, in good health, and with perfect teeth. This Jane had all the appearances of a typical teenage girl next-door, from her painted nails to her choice of clothing.
"We had a seamstress redo the exact clothing that she was wearing. We found out it's a Tommy Hilfiger knockoff shirt," explains Dudek. "And this is a teenager's outfit, it's very common. This is what all the kids were wearing."
Sgt. Dudek released a sketch, hopeful it was good enough for someone to recognize this girl, once it was splashed all over the local media and posted on Web sites dedicated to finding missing children.
"With this sketch being released, we probably had 150 possible clues or sightings of people that thought they knew who our Castro Valley Jane Doe was," remembers Dudek.
One clue seemed so promising that Dudek and his partner, Ed Chicoine, followed it all the way down to the Texas-Mexican border, where they collected DNA samples from several mothers of missing teenage girls, including a girl whose picture bore a remarkable resemblance to Jane.
"And every single one of those were checked out and it wasn't her," says Dudek.