ST. PAUL — Authorities in Texas on Tuesday, Nov. 9, identified the victim in a 1980 cold-case homicide — known locally there as the “Walker County Jane Doe” — as a 14-year-old girl from Stillwater, Minnesota.
A recent forensic DNA analysis concluded that Sherri Ann Jarvis, who had run away from home earlier that year, was the previously unidentified teenager who had been raped and strangled on Halloween night 41 years ago 50 miles north of Houston, Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae said during a news conference.
Jarvis’ body was discovered by a truck driver the next morning on the shoulder of an interstate in North Huntsville, Texas, not far from where Jarvis had last been seen alive by local residents, according to an article in the Huntsville Item newspaper.
No suspects in the case have yet been publicly identified by law enforcement.
Jarvis’ family released a statement through the sheriff’s department, thanking investigators for their work. Although Jarvis' parents have both died since her disappearance, she is survived by a sister, the Huntsville Item reported.
“We lost Sherri more than 41 years ago and we’ve lived in bewilderment every day since, until now as she has finally been found,” the family’s statement said. “She was a tender 13 years of age when the state removed her from our home for habitual truancy. Sherri never returned to our home as promised in a letter we received from her shortly after her departure. She was deprived of so many life experiences as a result of this tragedy.”
Jarvis was alone when she arrived in Huntsville on Oct. 31, 1980, wearing blue jeans, a white sweater and leather sandals, according to the Item. Residents who spoke with Jarvis at a local truck stop said she asked them how to get to a nearby prison run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the newspaper said.
After her body was discovered the next day, investigators ran down every lead they had but found only dead ends, McRae said during the news conference. Jarvis was buried in a Huntsville cemetery beneath a donated headstone that read “Unidentified white female,” the Item reported.
The case became known as the “Walker County Jane Doe” and “an army of amateur sleuths” have since joined law enforcement in the search for Jarvis’ identity and her killer, according to Texas Monthly.
Last year, the Walker County sheriff’s office partnered with a company specializing in forensic genealogy. DNA taken from the girl’s remains was used to construct a family tree, which led to the genetic confirmation of Jarvis’ identity.
Several theories have been floated in the four decades since her death, and Texas officials hope that finally knowing Jarvis’ name will allow them to identify and prosecute a suspect.
Walker County District Attorney Will Durham said during Tuesday’s news conference that he was a child in Huntsville when Jarvis was killed and remembers it firsthand.
“From a prosecutor’s perspective, I just hope this information will lead us to whoever did this,” he said. “And if they are alive, they’ll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.