GRANTS PASS, Ore. - Skeletal remains found nearly half a century ago in the woods outside Grants Pass, Ore., have finally been identified as an Aberdeen, Wash., girl who disappeared or ran away from home a few months earlier, officials said Thursday.
Anne Marie Lehman, who was 16 years old at the time of her disappearance and would have turned 65 this year, was identified through a confirmed match with her sister's DNA.
But the story of how that match was finally made all of these years later shows how modern forensic technology and determined investigators can shed light on the coldest of cold cases. And it has inspired officials to keep digging to see if they can determine how Anne Lehman died, said Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel.
The story begins on Aug. 18, 1971, when a traveling father and his son stopped along the Redwood Highway in Josephine County to spend the night, Daniel said.
The next morning, they stepped into the nearby woods and discovered the scattered skeletal remains of a young female.
At the time, Josephine County sheriff’s investigators did all they could to identify who the remains belonged to, the cause and manner of death and how the remains came to be there. When all leads were exhausted, the case was deemed “inactive” and the remains were placed in storage and listed simply as "Jane Doe - Josephine County 71-940."
In August 2004, cold case detectives renewed activity in the case as advancements in forensic science now allowed investigators to put a face on Jane Doe.
Forensic artist Joyce Nagy completed a clay facial reconstruction of Jane Doe. She nicknamed her work "Jane Annie Doe" as she felt the likeness she created displayed features inspiring the name "Annie."
Investigators distributed the image nationwide, resulting in numerous leads that kept the case active for several more years, Daniel said.
Then, in late 2016, forensic isotope analysis of Jane Annie Doe’s hair, teeth and bones indicated she was most likely from the northeast portion of the U.S. and migrated to the Pacific Northwest.
This new information, along with a new forensic drawing of what Jane Annie Doe may have looked like, was also published nationwide. Again, several leads were generated, but DNA failed to make a match.
In February 2017, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children funded and sponsored a case study of the investigation into Jane Annie Doe's death through the "DNA Doe Project."
In November 2018, retired Detective Sgt. Ken Selig received news that DNA from Jane Annie Doe was submitted to the DNA Doe Project by Dr. Nici Vance of the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, which had assumed custody of her remains in 2013.
After weeks of careful analysis and painstaking research, Jane Annie Doe’s family was traced through DNA to relatives in England, New Zealand and Canada. Then, last month, Sgt. Selig was notified that a potential match was found with a sister living in Washington state. She provided a DNA sample and a confirmed match was made.
Cold case investigators learned that Anne Lehman - who actually was affectionately nicknamed "Annie" by her family - was born and raised in southwestern Washington tate, primarily in Aberdeen.
Daniel says Annie Lehman's case illustrates how far the field of forensic science has come. Annie's DNA was heavily degraded, making it difficult to obtain the data needed for finding matches. In addition, the initial DNA matches came from people outside the U.S. who were only distantly related. Those unique challenges make Annie Lehman's case "groundbreaking," he said.
Investigators believe Annie Lehman went missing from Aberdeen in the winter or spring of 1971 under troubling circumstances. Some say Annie Lehman was a runaway and others feel she was abducted and traded to a criminal human trafficking organization. These claims, how she ended up in Josephine County and the cause and manner of her death remain under investigation.
Anyone who knows of any information concerning Anne "Annie" Marie Lehman (age 16 at the time of her disappearance) and her activities in years 1970 and 1971 is urged to contact Detective Ken Selig of the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office at 541-474-5123. The case number is #71-940.
Sheriff Daniel extended his gratitude and thankfulness to all the employees and volunteers who worked on this case over the years, including the Oregon State Police, Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, NAMUS, The University of North Texas, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Also, Dr. Margaret Press, Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, and the volunteers of the DNA Doe Project whose hard work on Jane Annie Doe’s genetic genealogy led to her identification. "
Without the DNA Doe Project orchestrating the effort to bring Annie Marie Lehman home, it may well have taken another 47 years before Annie would be identified and reunited with her family," he said.