[UPDATE: IDENTIFIED] Delta Dawn: Jane Doe unidentified for 38 years
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
[UPDATE December 4, 2020]: "Delta Dawn" has been identified as 18-month-old Alisha Ann Heinrich. Her mother has been identified as Gwendolyn Mae Clemons, who is still listed as missing. Check out this article for more information.)
Today I’m going to talk about another Jane Doe case. This one happened in my home state and has been unsolved for almost 38 years. Let’s talk about Delta Dawn.
In early December 1982, witnesses traveling the westbound lane of I-10 in Jackson County, Mississippi saw a young woman walking down the interstate and holding a child. The child was barefoot and had no coat, strange for December in Mississippi, though it’s possible it could have been unseasonably warm that day.
Several truckers and other drivers offered to help the woman, but she refused any help. The woman was dressed in a plaid shirt and blue jeans; she’s never been identified.
By the way, a quick note on location: Most sources said this all took place in Pascagoula. Others have said Moss Point or Escatawpa. All three are fairly small towns on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and they’re all pretty close together.
In the early morning hours of December 5, a report came in from a trucker in the same area. He claimed to have seen the body of a woman floating in the river under the interstate. The woman was wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans; the same thing the woman a few days earlier had been in.
After the trucker’s report came in, deputies searched the area looking for the woman. But when they got to the brush under the interstate, they found something they didn’t expect.
In the brush under the Escatawpa River (which was called the Dog River at the time), investigators found the body of a little girl. The girl was young — no older than two years old. She’d been dead for a day and a half, maybe two days when she’d been found. An autopsy would later reveal she’d been smothered, but she also had water in her lungs. This led investigators to believe whoever killed her had smothered her, probably thought she was dead and thrown her off the interstate bridge, where she drowned.
It’s assumed that the woman and the girl were mother and daughter, and that the woman killed the little girl — but, of course, we can’t say for sure.
Three days later, in the search for more clues as to the girl’s identity, another body was found about 60 yards away. This body was that of a young man whose body was completely skeletonized. He’s also believed to have been thrown off the bridge, but he nor his killer have ever been identified.
Lynn Reuss, an Alabama woman who has followed the case closely, gave the baby Jane Doe the nickname Delta Dawn because she’d been found early in the morning. Deputy Virgil Moore and his wife ended up claiming the girl’s body. When it came time to order her gravestone, Moore’s wife didn’t simply want the phrase “Jane Doe” on it, so she had “Baby Jane” carved on the stone. So this Jane Doe is usually called Delta Dawn, but she’s also known as Baby Jane.
Virgil Moore organized Delta Dawn’s funeral later that month. Over 200 people showed up to Bethel Assembly Church to pay their respects. She was buried in Jackson County Memorial Park in Pascagoula.
But since 1982, very few clues as to Delta Dawn’s identity — or the identity of her killer — have been uncovered. Moore said that at the time “we didn’t have the DNA and other technology that we do today.”
At first glance, it seems to me (and probably to a lot of other people) that Delta Dawn was killed by her mother, and that her mother is the same woman walking along the interstate in early December. However, this woman’s body has never been found and she’s never been identified. Investigators tried to find possible relatives of the supposed mother and daughter, but to no avail. The river was also searched in an attempt to find the woman’s body but, again, this led to nothing.
In 2007, another memorial was held for Delta Dawn, again at Bethel Memorial Church. In 2009, (or 2008, according to some sources), Delta Dawn’s body was exhumed to obtain DNA. At one point, a Kentucky woman was sure Delta Dawn was her sister, who she hadn’t seen since their father put the girl in the trunk of a car. However, this long lost girl was ruled out via her sister’s DNA. A few other people have believed Delta Dawn was one of their long lost relatives, but there have been no matches.
The day I started researching this case — about a week ago as of me filming this — I came across a Reddit post that had been posted about three days earlier. It said Delta Dawn’s NAMUS profile had been removed, and the poster wondered why that was. A couple of other users (as well as people elsewhere online) have speculated that this might mean a match had been made. If this is true, I haven’t found any evidence of it, but I will keep an eye out and update you guys if that changes.
But who was Delta Dawn? Who was the woman with her, and how did they both die? We don’t have much to go on other than speculation.
Detective Hope Thornton believes the truck driver who spotted the woman’s body may have actually been involved. According to Thornton, the driver’s story has changed a lot. I couldn’t find many details about this; in a 2014 article, Thorton said she couldn’t give any details because it was an ongoing investigation. I’ve seen others say they’re also skeptical of the driver’s story; I think more information about him was available online previously, but the articles have since been deleted.
The only odd thing I found was a supposed contradiction. Most sources said the driver only reported seeing a woman’s body floating in the river. But one 2017 article said the driver actually heard a baby crying, even including audio from his 911 call. Did other articles simply omit this detail, for whatever reason? Or did his story really change?
And who were Delta Dawn and the woman she was with, presumably her mother? Lynn Reuss thinks the mother may have been fleeing an abusive relationship, and plenty of other people have speculated that neither of them were reported missing because the mother’s abusive partner cut her off from family and friends. There’s also speculation that they were immigrants or runaways, and a few people suggested the mother didn’t murder her daughter, as has been previously speculated. Rather, they may have both been pursued by a passing motorist and jumped off the bridge to escape, or were killed by the motorist in same other way or possibly by a serial killer.
The Jane Doe known as “Delta Dawn” or “Baby Jane” was found on December 5, 1982, in Jackson County, Mississippi. She’s believed to have been between 18 months and 2 years old, and had been dead between 36 and 48 hours at the time of her discovery.
Delta Dawn was a white female, about 2 feet 5 inches tall and 25 pounds. She had strawberry blonde hair and appeared to be well cared for. She had 12 baby teeth and her eyes were believed to be either brown or blue. She was wearing a disposable diaper and a pink and white checkered Cradle Togs dress. (Cradle Togs is a company that makes baby clothes and other items.)
In the search for more clues about Delta Dawn, another unidentified body was found about 60 yards away on December 8, 1982. The body was that of a black male, between 18 and 22 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches and 120- to 170 pounds. He had a healed injury on the front of his head that would have left a scar. He was wearing a Hawaiian sport shirt, brown slacks and size 7 1/2 Converse shoes with red trim (but only the right shoe was found). Another source said a pair of blue jeans were found near his body. His body was skeletonized, and he’s believed to have been dead between six months and two years. His cause of death was homicide by gunshot wound, and investigators believe his body was also thrown from the interstate bridge.
So that’s all I have for you today on Delta Dawn. This case was a bit difficult to research because a lot of the sources or articles I found led to broken links. But I grew up in Pascagoula, so I knew I wanted to cover this case when I heard about it. In both Delta Dawn speculation and the comments sections of my other unsolved case videos, plenty of people have mentioned the advances in DNA technology and how they could help solve these cases. Hopefully investigators will take advantage of them and identify all the Does I’ve mentioned here.
If you have any information about the identity of Delta Dawn or the John Doe found nearby, you can contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at 1-228-769-3063. For Delta Dawn, you can also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST (1-800-843-5678).