On the morning of November 1, 1980, a truck driver traveling through the Sam Houston National Forest just outside Huntsville, Texas stumbled on the body of a young girl. She was naked except for a necklace, and the things that had been done to her were awful. Even worse, it would be over four decades before this murder victim was even identified. Let’s talk about the girl formerly known as the Walker County Jane Doe.
Further examination revealed the girl was between 14 and 18 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches tall and 110 pounds, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. She’d been dead for about six hours by the time she was found, and had been sexually assaulted with an object either right before or right after her death. Then she’d been beaten and strangled with pantyhose, probably with a pair that was found near her body. Her official cause of death was strangulation.
After news of this discovery came out, several witnesses came forward to say they’d seen someone the day before who matched this girl’s description. One witness said they’d seen her at a gas station around 6:30 the night before, where she’d asked for directions to the Ellis Prison Unit, a men’s prison on the outskirts of Huntsville. She’d been wearing jeans and a yellow sweater and carrying high heeled sandals — sandals that matched the description of a pair found near Jane Doe’s body.
The second reported sighting was at a truck stop, where a waitress said the girl had again asked for directions to this prison. According to the waitress, she asked the girl if her parents knew where she was, to which the girl replied “Who cares?” This girl also told the waitress she was from Rockport, about 250 miles south of Huntsville.
But when investigators showed Jane Doe’s photo to employees and inmates at the prison, none of them recognized her. Nobody in Rockport or nearby Aransas Pass, the area Jane Doe said she was from, knew who she was either. There were no missing persons reports matching her description.
On January 16, 1981, the Walker County Jane Doe was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville. She was exhumed in 1999 for DNA testing, but no matches were found. Her necklace was eventually lost; it’s not clear what happened to it, but every picture you’ll see of it here is a recreation.
The case was closed at some point, then reopened in 2015. That same year, a new reconstruction of Jane Doe’s face was done by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Her sandals were sent to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science for testing.
In July 2020, the Houston based forensic testing company Othram offered to work on the Walker County Doe’s case. I talked about Othram a little bit in my video on Brianna Maitland, whose case they’re also currently working on.
With the Walker County Doe, they seemed to have their work cut out for them. There wasn’t much genetic material left in her remains; most of it had decayed over time or was stripped away due to previous tests. After a few weeks, they determined they couldn’t get any DNA from her skeletal remains. But they did have another option: Her brain. A piece of Jane Doe’s brain tissue had been preserved in formaldehyde all these years. The formaldehyde had damaged the tissue, but Othram scientists were still able to get a bit of DNA from it.
From there, they compared the DNA sample to thousands of others from DNA and genealogy databases. By March 2021, they’d narrowed their search down to six of Jane Doe’s relatives. Finally, they had only one match, which was confirmed via the DNA of one of her relatives in late September. In November of 2021, 41 years after her body had been found, it was publically announced that the Walker County Jane Doe had been identified at Sherri Jarvis.
who was Sherri Jarvis?
Sherri Ann Jarvis was born on March 9, 1966 to mom Kerry and dad Don. She had at least one brother and one sister.
Sherri grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, quite a distance away from Huntsville, where she’d ultimately ended up. When she was in eighth grade, she was taken from her home due to habitual truancy and became a ward of the state. In March of 1980, a now 14-year-old Sherri was set to appear in court for a detention hearing, but chose to run away instead. She initially left with a pair of sisters, but they eventually split up and Sherri went her own way.
In August of that year, Sherri’s mom got a letter from her postmarked from Denver. In the letter, Sherri claimed she’d contact her family sometime between her 18th and 21st birthday. But that time frame came and went and there was still no word from Sherri. Her family hired a private investigator to find her, but they were unsuccessful. Her parents kept the same phone number for decades in the hopes she’d one day call them…but of course, she never did. Sadly, her dad died in 2018 and her mom in 2019; neither of them ever found out what happened to their daughter.
Interestingly, it turns out there was a missing persons report filed on Sherri by the state agency that had custody of her. Their records have since been purged, and it’s not clear why that report was never matched with the Walker County Doe’s description.
theories and speculation
So we now know who she was, but what happened to her? Over the years, there’s been a lot of speculation about what happened to Sherri Jarvis, most of it before she was identified. But I want to talk about some of the speculation that is relevant to this still unsolved murder.
One point of speculation is why Sherri told people she was from the Rockport/Aransas Pass area when she clearly wasn’t. Some people believe she spent some time there before she arrived in Huntsville, possibly feeling like she had some sort of connection to the area, Because she ran away from home and seemed to be drifting quite a bit, it’s certainly possible she did find her way to Rockport at some point.
Another thing people discussed is why Sherri was traveling to a prison where she didn’t seem to know anyone. There’s been a lot of speculation that she was going to visit a prisoner who denied knowing her because they were in a sexual relationship and he didn’t want to be charged with statutory rape. I’ve also seen people suggest she was part of some sort of escape plan, or that she had a prison pen pal there who didn’t recognize her because they’d never exchanged photos.
But who actually killed Sherri? There hasn’t been too much talk of this, but I have seen speculation that she was killed by a trucker or a serial killer. The name Henry Lee lLucas has come up, although from wha I understand he has given a lot of few dubious murder confessions. Whatever happened, police are currently looking into her case and, as of mid November 2021, seemed to have some positive leads.
It’s really exciting to see so many Does being identified over the past couple of years. Hopefully these ID’s will lead to solved cases at some point.
If you have any information about the murder of Sherri Jarvis, you can contact the Walker County Sheriff's Office at (936) 435-2400.