Missouri cold case cracked with cutting-edge DNA analysis

15 year old Helen Renee Grooms of Ottumwa Iowa
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15 year old Helen Renee Grooms of Ottumwa Iowa small
Photo of 15-year-old Helen Renee Grooms

Nearly five decades after her remains were unearthed, the identity of a young woman once referred to as “Lincoln County Jane Doe” has been resolved. A collaborative effort, employing the latest in forensic DNA technology, has disclosed her name and background, offering answers to a mystery that lingered for over 40 years.

The case was initiated in March 1978 with the discovery of human remains in the Mississippi River near Elsberry, Missouri. Lincoln County officials transported the body to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office, where an autopsy classified the victim as a white female, estimated to be in her 30s to 40s, with drowning as the cause of death. Signs of trauma were absent, and the manner of death was undetermined. It was approximated she had been deceased for about four months before being found.

At that time, identifying the victim was challenging. She had a cat’s-eye ring and a “Dee” tattoo on her left forearm. Despite exhaustive efforts, her identity remained a mystery. She was interred in Troy City Cemetery under the marker ‘Lincoln County Jane Doe’. The case details were logged into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) in 2009 as UP5295.

A significant breakthrough occurred in October 2023 when her remains were exhumed in a joint operation. Analysis by Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) Anthropology staff and students, led by Professor Jennifer Bengtson, suggested she was a teenager at the time of death, younger than initially thought.

Chemical analyses on the degraded remains enabled the selection of viable samples for DNA extraction by Othram. Their advanced Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing extracted DNA, leading to a comprehensive genealogical profile and new leads. This allowed the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office to identify her as 15-year-old Helen Renee Groomes through a familial DNA match, clarifying she disappeared in late 1977 from Ottumwa, Iowa.

Lincoln County Sheriff Rick Harrell expressed gratitude towards SEMO, Othram, and the coroner’s office for their roles in resolving this long-standing case and providing closure to Helen’s family.

The public with information on Helen’s case is encouraged to contact Detective Aaron McConnell at the Wapello County Sheriff’s Department at 641-226-3360.

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Randall Mann


Randall has been with KTTN/KGOZ for almost 20 years. He is the current Engineer for all of the stations, as well as working "on-air" from 6 to 10, am in the morning. Randall does a bit of everything including producing advertisements as well as writing the occasional news article. Randall is also the current Webmaster for the studio as well as the local graphic artist.