‘Penny Doe’ identity to be released next month


EATON — The identity of the female called “Penny Doe,” whose body was exhumed in Mound Hill Cemetery over four years ago, has been determined and will be announced next month, officials said earlier this week.

The Shelby, Ohio Police Department in conjunction with the Preble County Coroner’s Office exhumed in 2019 the unidentified remains of an unknown person found in a drainage ditch in 1968 in Eaton, Shelby Police Detective Adam Turner said in an email last week. “This was performed for the purpose of conducting DNA analysis to compare to a missing persons investigation (Mary Jane Croft Vangilder) from 1945 that began in 2018 in the City of Shelby in Richland County. Through a detailed investigation and a cadre of professionals working together, we have the results of the identity of this unknown person,” Turner said.

An announcement regarding the identity of the woman will be made during a press conference on Friday, Nov. 17.

On May 25, 1968, a human skull was found in a flooded creek bed in Eaton. A few hours later, additional bones were discovered, badly decomposed; it’s believed the remains may have been washed out of a shallow grave by flooding, as local cemeteries were checked and the graves there found to be undisturbed.

The bones were determined to be those of a white woman, between 30 and 50 years of age, standing between 5’2” and 5’6” and weighing 130-140 lbs. No clothing or jewelry was found with the remains. The woman is believed to have died 10 to 15 years prior to discovery.

The remains were buried in Mound Hill Cemetery, then exhumed in Aug. 2019 after Detective Turner learned of the unidentified woman while investigating the case of a missing person — Mary Jane Croft VanGilder, a 33-year-old mother from West Virginia last seen in 1945.

Originally from Fairmont, West Virginia,VanGilder moved to Plymouth, Ohio and worked in Shelby. While VanGilder was in Ohio, she corresponded with her children in West Virginia via letter. But in 1945, the letters stopped coming, according to officials.

In the late 1940s, VanGilder’s daughter and brother started writing letters of their own to various police departments requesting their help in locating their missing family member. VanGilder’s daughter even contacted the FBI, but was told they couldn’t get involved.

The case was finally reopened after Shelby Police Chief Lance Combs was contacted by VanGilder’s granddaughter. Det. Turner reportedly asked to take the lead on the case and, in the course of his research, came across the story of Eaton’s Jane Doe.

Turner then reached out to local authorities, including former Preble County Coroner’s Office Investigator David Lindloff, who remembered the case from 1968 and helped arrange for the exhumation. The City of Eaton waived the associated costs to help find justice, and a name, for Penny Doe.

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