WAUKESHA, Wis. — Katie Dougherty has worked at the Waukesha County Medical Examiner's office for more than 10 years. As part of her job, she gets to solve mysteries.
In 2011, she says she was handed the cold case files for the county. Included in those files was a case from 1977. A man died while driving a stolen car near Delafield, and he left detectives little to work with.
"The only identifying items he had with him were a lighter that said 'to John love Lauri' and an envelope with medication tablets in them that had the name Scott on them," Dougherty said.
"I always told the detectives that I was going to get this solved," Dougherty said. "I didn't know when. I didn't know how and I knew I was going to need help, but I said we're going to solve this case and it's going to be forensic science that does it."
In 2015, the Delafield John Doe was exhumed to collect a DNA sample. It was sent to the University of North Texas, where it was compared to samples in CODIS, the FBI's Combined DNA Index System. It's a database designed to help investigators see if the DNA they have was collected elsewhere, either as evidence collected from a crime scene or known offender or arrestee profiles.
But in Delafield Doe's case, there were no matches. His case remained a mystery.
Dougherty then reached out to DNA Doe Project, a group of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists.
Kevin Lord, the Director of Lab and Agency Logistics for DNA Doe Project said the DNA in the Delafield Doe case had a problem.
"The DNA, in this case, the quality of the DNA was really not very good at all, that was one of the big challenges in this case," Lord said.
Over time other microorganisms made their way into the body, making it difficult to obtain a sufficient sample.
He sent the sample to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, located in Huntsville, Alabama, where the DNA sample could be further analyzed.
"The ideal situation is that they enter it and there is a close family match, and we're able to solve it right away. But in this case that didn't happen," Dougherty said. "All of his matches were very distant. At that point they put me in touch with Jenny."
Jenny Lecus, an investigative genetic genealogist with DNA Doe Project, wasn't far away, located about 20 miles away in Franklin, Wisconsin.
In May of 2020, she and her team of volunteers were able to start processing the DNA using data uploaded by genealogy websites users who opt to share their information.
"What we do is we try to identify MRCAs, Most Recent Common Ancestors, between the matches, and we hope for different groups of these so we can see how their families might be linked together," Lecus said.
"We were able to identify several common ancestor couples of interest and some of them went back to the 1700s, but we were able to narrow it down a little further and so we gave those names to Katie, the medical examiner, and then she was also looking at them and she was able to identify one of their descendants," Lecus also said.
Dougherty said she offered a hand in the research, and eventually found a marriage certificate for John Lindbergh Scott.
"He had the lighter that said 'To John, Love Lauri,' so we had the John name. And then he had an envelope with the name Scott on it, so there we had the name Scott," she said.
Last November, Waukesha County officials were finally able to announce they had identified John Scott, 44 years after his death.
"We were able to get in contact with John Scott's sister, Mary Jean Nunn, who went by Jean, and she was more than happy to provide us with a DNA sample," Dougherty said.
"I just found out a few days ago that Jean Nunn passed away unexpectedly, and I am so grateful that all of us were able to give that, this answer, before she passed. Because I know she was incredibly grateful for it," she also said.
DNA Doe Project is actively working on additional unidentified cases in Wisconsin and across the country.
Here are some additional cases DNA Doe Project has assisted with in Wisconsin:
Kenosha John Doe 1993
The remains of a man were found near the Soo Line tracks near Pleasant Prairie in 1993. He had distinctive tattoos, long black hair and a mustache. The Kenosha County Medical Examiner is the listed agency of jurisdiction.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/kenosha-john-doe-1993/
St. Croix County Jane Doe 2002
Boy Scouts found the remains of a woman in a plastic bag near Houlton, Wisconsin in 2002. Investigators speculate the remains were placed there a year prior to their discovery. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and St. Croix County Sheriff's Office are the agencies of jurisdiction.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/st-croix-county-jane-doe-2002/
Vernon County Jane Doe
In 1984 the remains of an unidentified female were found on a gravel road near Westby, Wisconsin. The case was featured on the local news, and witnesses reported seeing a suspicious man in the area driving a yellow 1982 Datsun. The Wisconsin DOJ is the agency of jurisdiction.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/vernon-county-jane-doe/
Dane County Chimney Doe 1989
Workers at the Good 'n Loud Music store in Madison found an entire human skeleton in a pipe connected to the leaky boiler they were trying to remove in the basement in 1989. It's reported there was no way a person could have gotten in the pipe from inside the building. The Madison Police Department is the agency of jurisdiction.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/dane-co-chimney-doe-1989/
John Lehmann Burnett County 1999
A woman found her boyfriend dead in his apartment in 1999 in Webster, Wisconsin. She knew him as John Lehmann, but his true identity is unknown and was buried as John Doe. The Burnett County Sheriff's Department is the agency of jurisdiction.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/john-lehman-burnett-co-1999/
Columbia County Jane Doe
A passerby found human remains near Petra Road in Columbia County in 1982. Investigators think she may have been killed elsewhere and her remains were placed at the site later. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office is the agency of jurisdiction.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/columbia-co-jane-doe-1982/
IDENTIFIED: Jackson County John Doe 1978
Human remains were found by loggers near the Village of Warrens in Jackson County back in 1978, and the death was considered a "presumed homicide." On March 31, 2021 the Wisconsin DOJ, Jackson County Sheriff's Office and DNA Doe Project announced the man was 43-year-old Dennis Regan McConn of Kenosha.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/jackson-county-john-doe/
IDENTIFIED: John Clinton Doe
Hunters found the remains of a man in 1995 near Turtle Creek near Clinton, Wisconsin. Investigators believed he was dead for at least a year when he was discovered. DNA Doe Project reports he has tentatively been identified, but officials have declined to release any further information.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/john-clinton-doe/
IDENTIFIED: Barron County John Doe 1982
The remains of a white male were found near Highway 25 near Ridgeland in Barron County in 1982. Investigators say the death was caused by three puncture wounds to the chest, and the death is considered a homicide. In January of 2020, the Barron County Sheriff's Department announced the man was Kraig Patrick King of Minnesota.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/barron-co-john-doe/
IDENTIFIED: Barron County John Doe 2017
Human remains were found on the driveway of a residence in Dallas, Wisconsin in 2017, and additional remains were later found in the woods near the home. The person had died of a gunshot to the head. In June of 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced the deceased was Gary Albert Herbst.
More information: https://dnadoeproject.org/case/baron-co-john-doe-2017/