I-40 Jane Doe discovered in 1990 identified as Lisa Coburn-Kesler

October 03, 2023

The body of a female murder victim discovered in Hillsborough, Orange County, North Carolina, in September of 1990 has finally been identified as Lisa Coburn-Kesler.

On September 19th, 1990, a cleanup crew from the Department of Transportation working in North Carolina, discovered the badly decomposed body of a partially clad young woman down an embankment, near the New Hope Church Road interchange near interstate 40. It was later determined that the body had been there for around a week before it was found.

Orange County Sheriff at the time, Lindy Pendergrass, was quick to tell the media that although the death had not yet been determined at that point, that it was being investigated as foul play.

The victim was determined to be between the ages of 15 and 25 with dirty blond hair. She stood at around 5’3 inches and weighed approximately 115lbs.

X-rays were performed, but showed no indication of broken bones, and an examination of the body ruled out death by shooting and stabbing. Although law enforcement was sure it was a homicide, the official cause of death was inconclusive and could not be determined but experts believed the girl had been strangled to death.

Missing person reports in the area were checked for a missing female matching the victim's description, however, no link was made. All investigators had to go on were the clothing and accessories the Jane Doe was wearing, the few distinguishing features she had, and the x-rays taken by a medical examiner.

Dental examination showed that Jane Doe had three fillings. Medical examination revealed a scar from a previous appendectomy.

She was wearing a pink sweatshirt with a unique design- three white rabbits, two of which were riding bicycles and the other, a unicycle. She was also wearing a bra and white socks. There was a brass bracelet on her left wrist and a fashion ring on one of her fingers. Because of the youthful style of her clothing and accessories, police speculated that the victim was likely a teenager.

Although local missing women did not match the description of the Jane Doe, investigators had to consider that the victim could have been from further afield, due to the location of the body being adjacent to the I-40. This meant that she could have come from anywhere between from Barstow, California, to Wilmington, North Carolina. They believed the victim had been killed elsewhere and was transported to the scene of its discovery.

In late September, Pendergrass told The Daily Tar Heel that witnesses who thought they may have seen the girl before she was murdered, reported a possible sighting in Alamance County.

Although they couldn't be certain, they said they recalled the female wearing a pink sweater with rabbits on the front. From witness descriptions, a composite sketch was drawn up and published in the paper in the hope that readers would be able to identify her. No one was able to put a name to the face.

A bust of the victim was created using the skull, but did little more to help.

In 2018, a digital version of the composite sketch was released to the public, but still, no one came forward to identify her.

Despite their best efforts to identify Jane Doe, including following up on several potential leads, police were unable to identify the victim and the case went cold for over three decades.

Last week, Jane Doe was finally given back her name after being identified using modern forensic technology techniques unavailable in the 1990s. Sheriff Charles Blackwood of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office revealed the identity as Lisa Coburn Kesler of Jackson County, Georgia. The identity was confirmed with the assistance of the State Bureau of Investigation, Astrea Forensics, and forensic genealogist Leslie Kaufman.

Lisa’s family were not aware that she was missing, and never reported her as a missing person to police. As far as they were aware, she had left willingly and of her own accord to go to Michigan to stay with family. The Michigan side of the family with whom Lisa was staying, said that after she left, they just assumed she had gone back to Georgia.

In 2020 the victim's DNA was extracted from a hair sample, and although quite degraded by that point, it was enough to create a DNA profile and enter it into databases. A cousin of the victim was identified, and from there, an identification of the victim was made.

Investigator Dylan Hendricks who has been on the case since the summer of 2020 said in a statement: “Essentially, there was a Lisa-shaped hole on a branch of the family tree right where the DNA told us Lisa should be, and no one knew where she was.”

Although Lisa finally has her name back, the identity of her killer still remains unknown. Investigators are confident that the same forensic techniques used to identify Lisa Kesler can be used to identify her killer.

Sources: [X][X][X]

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