BENTON COUNTY — The Benton County coroner and several other agencies are working to solve a cold case from 1976.
Coroner Matt Rosenbarger and several forensic specialists worked on exhuming the remains of the woman.
Rosenbarger said the case has been on his mind off and on for a number of years.
“A lot of people don’t remember the case,” he said, noting that he was a deputy sheriff at the time. He remembers the detectives and others working on the case worked long hours to try and found the woman’s identity. The followed every lead they could, he said.
The woman is is believed to have been white and 60 to 65 years old. At some point in her life, he said, she had had a mastectomy on her right side.
She was found by a farmer in Pine Township, Benton County, in October of 1976 when he was harvesting his crops. “He found a box about 10 to 12 rows in,” Rosenbarger said. The farmer picked up the box and took it home. When he opened it he found the woman dead inside. She had a gunshot wound to her head. “He immediately called police,” he said.
Rosenbarger served as a deputy sheriff for a number of years and then was deputy coroner for 14 years. He said through the years he thought about the case.
In January he was contact by NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
That organization had a cold case from Ohio they for which they were searching for information. There were some similarities to that case and the Benton County case, he said, but the Ohio case was 10 years older.
He said that was really the impetus for working on the Benton County case again.
The woman was buried in an unmarked grave in Fowler Cemetery. Through the help of several people, including former Newton County Coroner Scott McCord, who has worked on his own cold cases through the years, and several forensics experts.
Dr. Krista Latham from the University of Indianapolis is a forensics anthropologist and Dr. Darin Wolfe is a forensics pathologist in Indianapolis. They both worked with Rosenbarger, as did Dr. Lauren Weidner, a forensics entomologist, who had been working at Purdue until she moved west. She happened to be in the area, he said, and helped at the cemetery on June 28. They worked seven to eight hours, he said, to exhume the body, making sure they gathered as much information as they could.
Latham now has the body and the forensics experts are trying to find out as much as they can, he said. There are several DNA tests that can be done, but some of them are expensive. All told it could cost as much as $5,000 to do all the DNA testing, and how to pay for those tests is something he and other Benton County officials are going to have to determine.
Rosenbarger said he is hopeful that they will be able to find out who the woman is and give her family some closure. Finding her identity could also help police find out what happened to her and find a suspect.
“We are very serious about identifying her,” he said, noting that he is pleased that the process is started.
While the investigators in 1976 used all the resources they had, Rosenbarger said science has changed and it is hoped that the newer technologies will be able to provide them with the information they need to identify her.
He is also pleased with all the people who have helped in the process. He said besides the ones already mentioned, representatives from the Benton County Clerk’s office, Benton County Health Department, Windler Funeral Home, Indiana State Police and others have worked on the case, for which he is grateful.