At first, Mark Henshaw didn’t believe his mother-in-law when she told him she saw a body on the side of the road near her home in rural New Buffalo Township. But the more he thought about it, the more he thought it might be a good idea to at least drive by and check it out.
“I rolled down my window enough to get a smell of decay and the flies were terrible,” he recalled. “I drove past what was definitely a body wrapped in trash bags and twine. And the only reason I knew for sure was there was some hair poking through where the plastic bags had broken.
It was August 23, 1992.
A stack of 35 millimeter crime scene photos, a three-ring binder and several thick folders with reports, leads, tips and information now sits on Michigan State Police Investigator Jeffery Oudman’s desk at the Niles post.
The photographs show black trash bags wrapped in twine just a few feet off Krueger Road, east of Red Arrow Highway.
The woman’s body was wrapped in a white sheet and towels before she was put in the bag, Oudman said. Her hands and dentures had been removed because whoever put her there likely didn’t want her to be identified, he added.
“Now, of course, we have DNA, but back then, basically that's all we had, was fingerprints and dental records. And because neither was available from this body it made the investigation all that much harder,” Oudman said.
One theory, he added, was that someone may have been trying to collect her Social Security benefits or possibly take advantage of what she left behind. Investigators also believe the woman may have lived in a care facility such as a nursing home in northern Illinois or Indiana due to an illness, and the type of white sheet that was found wrapped around her body.
A medical examiner determined the woman inside the bag died four to seven days before being dumped. That examiner also ruled the woman died of natural causes, but police didn’t rule out foul play because of the condition of her body when she was found.
The tips and leads into identifying her dried up years ago. Nobody came forward to claim her as a missing friend or relative. Police were at a dead end.
But recently, police released photographs of a facial reconstruction an MSP forensic artist put together of that “Jane Doe,” using her skull and clay. Police describe the woman as a white female with white hair and brown eyes who was between 65- and 75-years-old at her death. She was approximately 5’2” tall, weighed 103 pounds and wore dentures. The hope is that someone will recognize her and come forward.
“We will not close this case until we find the identity of this person,” Oudman said.
As for Henshaw, the chilling discovery he made on a warm summer day 20 years ago is something that will stay with him forever.
“It feels just like a few days ago because it's pretty clear [in my memory]. You don't forget something like that,” he said.
If you have any information about the woman or the circumstances surrounding her death, call Detective Sergeant Douglas Kill or Tpr. Investigator Jeff Oudman at the Niles Post at (269) 683-4411.