Billboard seeks public's help in solving county's only cold case

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On Oct. 2, 1976, a black woman between the ages of 18 and 23 years old was found dead in a ditch in Grundy County.

Forty-two years ago, an unidentified young black woman was found dead in a wooded area just west of Morris.

The case is Grundy County's only cold case. Now an electronic billboard outside the Joliet Regional Airport has a photo of what authorities believe the woman looked like. The caption reads: "The year was 1976. Who was I?"

"She was found partially clothed, with a gunshot wound to the head," said Grundy County Coroner John Callahan. "It's bothered me, knowing she's someone's daughter, someone's loved one. Her parents are probably deceased, however she could have brothers or sisters or cousins."

The woman was found Oct. 2, 1976 and there have been no leads.

However, ten months ago, Callahan and his staff decided it was time to find out who the woman was.

The victim was believed to be between 18 to 23 years old. She was 5-feet-7-inches and approximately 150 pounds. She was African American, but Grundy County's population at the time was mostly white which is why authorities suspect she was not a local resident.

The woman was found in a ditch in an area within a mile from Interstate 80. Officials believe she was dumped there and not where she was murdered.

Advances in genetic testing and national organizations dedicated to tracking missing people gave Grundy County officials a second chance.

The first step was getting an accurate picture of what she looked like. Gunshot injuries to the victim's face partially disfigured her, so sketch artists created two renderings they hope to distribute.

They also used DNA evidence found on a sweater she was wearing to create a profile. That profile is now being used to test against all missing African American women in her age range nationwide from that era.

"I have a list of 17 females. Of those 17, I feel like four or five of them are potential matches. Two are from Texas. One from Kentucky. One from Washington state," says Grundy County Deputy Coroner Brandon Johnson. "So right now, the DNA is being tested in Texas. Once that's completed they're going to compare our individual from the rest of them and tell us whether or not it's an exclusion or indeed is a match."

Anyone who thinks they may recognize the woman in the photos should call the Grundy County Coroner's Office at 815-942-3792.
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