EATON — The Preble County Coroner’s Office is working with the Shelby Police Department to identify a Jane Doe and hopefully locate a woman who has been missing since 1945.
On Wednesday, Aug. 28, the coroner’s office and Shelby Police Department gathered with City of Eaton staff to exhume a body at Mound Hill Cemetery.
The Shelby Police Department is trying to locate Mary Jane Croft VanGilder, who went missing in 1945. In his research, Officer Adam Turner came across a Jane Doe buried in Eaton who matches the description of Croft VanGilder.
Originally from Fairmont, West Virginia, Croft VanGilder moved to Plymouth, Ohio, and worked in Shelby. When she left West Virginia, her children stayed behind.
While Croft VanGilder was in Ohio, she corresponded with her eldest daughter via letters. In 1945 those letters stopped arriving.
In the late 1940s, Croft VanGilder’s daughter and brother started writing letters to various police departments requesting their help to locate the missing mother.
Turner explained, they weren’t sure what police department should take the case, since she was from West Virginia, but lived in Ohio, and worked in a different city than where she lived. Croft VanGilder’s daughter ended up contacting the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. She was informed the FBI could not take the case from local control.
Years later, when the cold case was cracked open, Shelby Police Department could find no documentation listing Croft VanGilder as missing. Turner does not know if a report was made back in the late 1940s, but he could not find any official documentation documenting her as missing.
The case was reopened when Shelby Police Chief Lance Combs was contacted by a woman in South Carolina in 2018. This woman was Croft VanGilder’s granddaughter, who was seeking help in finding her grandmother. The family was still looking for answers, after all this time.
Turner asked Chief Combs if he could take the lead on the cold case.
“Ultimately, Mary Jane’s family still wants to know what happened to her. It has been 74 years since they last heard from her, but there are still children that want to know what happened to their mom. Now there is another generation of grandchildren who want to know what happened to their grandmother,” Turner said.
Since there was no known information on Croft VanGilder after she disappeared, Turner thought something had to have happened sometime after she disappeared. He started searching NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) for Jane Does across the country. He looked for specific parameters, such as height, weight, and age. There weren’t any matching results in Ohio or surrounding states.
However, Turner wasn’t deterred and he searched findagrave.com, changing his search parameters to say “unknown doe.” There he found a newspaper article about a Jane Doe found in Preble County with similar estimated characteristics to Croft VanGilder. He reached out to the Preble County Coroner’s Office and Investigator David Lindloff.
Lindloff remembered the case from when the Preble County Jane Doe was found in 1968 and gathered the information.
“He has been phenomenal to work with and has helped me immensely to set all this up and get to the point where we’re at the exhumation. He has set everything up with the cemetery and the city. They have just been fabulous. We would not be here today if it wasn’t for [Lindloff],” Turner said.
The goal of the exhumation is to obtain a DNA profile from the bones of the Jane Doe. Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) officials travelled to the exhumation to retrieve a DNA sample. However, Lindloff does not expect results for several weeks.
Even if the DNA results show that this Preble County Jane Doe is not Croft VanGilder, one woman could still receive justice. Jane Doe has been without a name since 1968. This exhumation could give Jane Doe her name back.
“If [this Jane Doe] is not Mary Jane, that is somebody. It is somebody’s mother, sister, daughter,” Turner said. “If it is not Mary Jane, we are going to find out who that is through the technology available.”
“Hopefully, if they can draw the DNA sample, with all the technology available now, if this person is already in [the missing persons system] they can match her up with Jane Doe,” Lindloff said. “If somebody has been missing from wherever and they had some relation that submitted a swab or sample and it is in the system, it could be an easy match.”
This exhumation would have cost thousands of dollars, but the City of Eaton waived the cost and worked with the Shelby Police Department and the Preble County Coroner’s Office to find justice and a name for Jane Doe.
“I’ve done four of these — they usually cost thousands of dollars. [The City of Eaton] donated all these workers and didn’t charge us anything for doing it,” Lindloff said.
The only cost would be if they needed to replace the casket Jane Doe was in, but Lindloff wasn’t sure if that was needed as the grave was in good shape. However, if that is needed, they will replace the casket.
“I feel obligated to treat [Jane Doe] with respect,” Lindloff said. “For me, personally, when you have a case like this, I always think about the family members, how rough it would be. If there is any possibility at all of [identifying] this lady, I think whatever relatives are left, they deserve to know what happened to their loved one.”