November 30, 2021
On October 26, 1991, at approximately 1:50pm, two hunters exploring a hunting area near milepost 0.6 of Interstate 80 in Knowlton Township, New Jersey, happened upon the naked body of a deceased young female.
No attempt was made to conceal the decedent. The distance from the highway to the point of discovery, as well as the lack of clothing or items found with the body, suggested the young woman had been killed elsewhere and carried from a vehicle to the area in which she was found. Police believed the young woman had been dumped in a wooded area near the Delaware Water Gap, not far from the Pennsylvania border. She was estimated to have died around early October.
Detective Chris Andrejcak of the New Jersey Police, who worked the case in 1991, explained to The Morning Call Newspaper that the identity of the young woman was difficult to discern due to the position in which the body was found, as well as the time that had elapsed before its discovery. The decedent was lying in a position where the body was elevated above the head, causing accelerated decomposition in the face.
The young woman was described as a teenager, around 17 – 19 years old. She was Caucasian, between 4 Feet 10 inches to five feet one inch and weighed no more than 110lbs. She had dirty blonde hair that was bleached to achieve the shade. Her most distinguishing feature was a large tattoo of a tiger down the back of her left calf. Police believed it was a piece of flash from a tattoo parlor as opposed to an at-home stick and poke. Police tried to follow the tattoo lead by travelling to tattoo conventions across the county, to no avail.
Although the cause of death was not revealed to the public, it was determined to be a homicide.
A sketch of what the victim may have looked like was published in various local newspapers at the time and the placeholder name, Tiger lady, was given to the Jane Doe while investigators worked to find out her official identity.
Over the years various tips came in about the tiger lady, but none of them lead to her identity. They did, however, lead to the arrest of Joel Rifkin.
Joel "The Ripper" Rifkin was a New York serial killer, active from 1989 to 1993. He was sentenced to 203 years in prison for the murders of nine women, although it is believed that he killed many more. Although Rifkin is not responsible for the murder of The Tiger Lady, he did dispose of several victims in the New Jersey Area, often decapitated with teeth and fingerprints removed. He was arrested in June 1993 after he was pulled over by state troopers around Long Island's Southern State Parkway when they noticed his pickup truck was missing a license plate. When officers pulled over his vehicle, they discovered that he was in the process of transporting the body of a victim that he had concealed under a tarpaulin. Just days before his arrest Dave Rubinstein, of the punk rock band Reagan Youth, had described the pickup truck to police after Rifkin had picked up his girlfriend, sex worker Tiffany Bresciani, and failed to return. Rifkin’s final victim would later be identified as Tiffany Bresciani. Rubinstein had developed a heroin addiction after Reagan Youth disbanded and despite attempts to get clean with the support of his family and medical professionals, could not beat the habit. He met and began dating Tiffany Bresciani, who was just twenty-two at the time of her death, after moving away from his support system. The couple continued to abuse heroin together, with Bresciani supporting their habit through sexwork. Rubinstein would wait for her while she was with clients. Rifkin pulled up to Bresciani in his Mazda pickup truck as she stood on the side of Allen Street in Manhattan and said he would come back in 20 minutes, instead taking Tiffany Bresciani as his final victim.
Rubinstein died by suicide the following month.
The identity of the tiger lady was finally revealed earlier this month by the Warren County Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey State Police Cold Case Unit, at a hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, as Wendy Louise Baker- a sixteen-year-old runaway from Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
Wendy Baker's identity was discovered after a DNA profile was created from a fragment of one her bones. That profile was then uploaded to a genealogy database that led investigators to Baker's uncle. Her family provided samples of their own DNA along with several photographs of Wendy for comparison against forensic sketches. The victim’s family had no idea that she was dead and were shocked and horrified when they were told she had been found murdered and naked and that her decomposing remains had been discovered in a wooded area off the I-80. Although she had left home early, they had always believed that she was alive, living her life out in the world somewhere.
Baker's family told police that she had ran away from her family in Florida when she was just fifteen years old, and they believe she may have resided in California at some point before moving on to Pennsylvania. It is speculated that she may have been murdered in Pennsylvania and driven across the border to distance her killer from the crime.
Wendy was from a large family and her parents are deceased. A surviving family member described her as “outgoing, but quiet”.
The mystery of The Tiger Lady’s identity may have been solved but the question of who killed her and why remains. Police are confident that someone with information leading to the identity of Baker’s killer will come forward after the news of her identification, but only time will tell.
January 11, 2022