Updated: May 11, 2020
I’ve talked about a few John and Jane Doe cases here already. As sad as they are, I enjoy learning about them, and you guys seem to as well. Today’s case involves a Jane Doe who has gone unidentified for almost 40 years, and I was actually drawn to this case by her unusual nickname. Let’s talk about the woman only known as the Cheerleader in the Trunk.
On August 24, 1982, mushroom hunters in Gambrills State Park in Frederick, Maryland stumbled on a body. The body was off a gravel road in a wooded area and stored in a “steamer trunk.” I was a little confused when I first heard this, but apparently a steamer trunk is just one of those trunks you often see in movies that characters will pack their things in for boarding school or some other long trip. In fact, if you do a google search for steamer trunks, you’ll get a lot of listings of “vintage” or “antique” steamer trunks for sale. The trunk this body was found in has also been described as a foot locker.
The trunk had leaves and sticks on it, but it didn’t seem to be intentionally hidden. The remains inside were either mostly or fully skeletonized.
The body inside was found to be a white female, between the ages of 17 and 27, but who may have been as old as 45. I don’t believe a cause of death has ever been officially stated, and even her time of death is murky. It’s been estimated as anywhere from a few months before her body was found to as late as 10 years earlier. The woman had a lot of dental procedures that were consistent with procedures and methods performed by dental students.
This Jane Doe got her nickname from some of the wear on her bones. There was heavy wear on her pelvis that caused early investigators to believe she may have been a dancer or gymnast — or, of course, a cheerleader. She’d also had back and feet injuries in the past, and she had something called spondylolysis.
Spondylolysis is a defect in the connection between vertebra. it can lead to small stress fractures that weaken the bones or even cause them to slip out of place. It’s common in children and teenagers who participate in sports. It might sound like a serious condition, and maybe it is. But a lot of people who have it don’t even realize it. Low back pain is often one of the only symptoms, and that can be attributed to lots of different conditions.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough DNA in the Cheerleader’s body to create a profile. A sketch was done early on in the case and, overall, investigators pursued hundreds of leads. But none of this lead anywhere.
At some point, the case was featured both on The New Detectives and Final Justice. I tried to find the episode of The New Detectives, but couldn’t. Someone on a Websleuths thread about the case claims it was only mentioned briefly because investigators in another missing persons case thought the person might be this Doe, but they were ultimately ruled out.
In 2012, a new sketch was released by the Frederick Police Department in the hopes that someone would be able to identify the woman. I believe the case had been closed for awhile and was reopened this year. Unfortunately, this is the latest update I could find on the case. It’s been eight years since that sketch was released and 38 years since the Cheerleader in the Trunk was found, and she remains a Jane Doe.
There aren’t really any “theories” in this case, but there is quite a bit of speculation. Despite her nickname, a lot of people don’t think she was necessarily a cheerleader. That’s certainly possible, of course, but dance related careers like Broadway dancer, figure skater and exotic dancer have also been suggested. Someone on a Reddit thread about the case said if this Jane Doe participated in competitive sports, that could indicate her coming from a wealthy family since competitive sports are expensive. Other jobs like cook, camerawoman, farmer or something else that involved a lot of physical labor have also been suggested.
But how did the Cheerleader die? The death is generally presumed to be homicide, probably due to the circumstances surrounding her body being found. Some people I’ve come across think she was hitchhiking and killed by a trucker. I’ve talked a little about this subject in my video on the hitchhiker murders of Santa Rosa, but I’m not sure that’s the case here. Another Websleuths speculator suggested the Cheerleader was killed by someone she knew, because a random trucker probably wouldn’t bother to put her body in a trunk that was likely big and difficult to handle.
But most of the speculation surrounding this case has to do with other missing women who might be the Cheerleader. Two names I saw mentioned a lot were Virginia Welch and Anne Riggin.
Virgina Alice Welch was 22 when she disappeared from her new home in Roanoke, Virginia, just after moving in with a new roommate. Her mother hadn’t seen her since she moved and, about three weeks later, went to ask her roommate where she was. The roommate simply said she had left but he didn’t remember when and had no idea where she was.
I’ve seen a few people call her “Virginia Ann Welch,” but all official sources list her middle name as “Alice,” so I assume “Ann” was an error. As far as I know, she hasn’t been officially ruled out as the Cheerleader.
Anne Lillian Riggin was 25 when she went missing from her home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on May 28, 1982. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other details surrounding the circumstances of her disappearance. I don’t believe there’s been any investigation into whether she’s this Cheerleader Jane Doe.
details and contact info
The Cheerleader in the Trunk is a white female, roughly between the ages of 17 and 27. She was between 5 ‘ 2 “ and 5 ‘ 6 “ tall and 100 to 130 pounds. She had wavy, medium length dark brown or reddish brown hair. No clothing or jewelry was found at the scene, but a dark colored towel was found nearby. Her estimated date of death is between a few months to 10 years before the discovery of her body in August 1982.
If you have any information about the identity of the Cheerleader in the Trunk, you can contact the Frederick Police Department at 301-600-2100.
NCIC Case Number: U759825015
NamUs Case Number: 7477
NCMEC Case Number: 1107673
Virginia Welch was 22 years old when she disappeared from Roanoke, Virginia on July 12, 1982. She’s a white female, 5 ‘ 7 “ tall and 135 pounds. She has brown, curly hair and blue eyes. She has multiple tattoos: A red rose on her right forearm, a hummingbird on her left breast, eagle wings on her right shoulder, a cobra snake on her hip/upper left leg and a Confederate flag with the words “live to ride, ride to live” (though I’m not sure where that one is on her body). She might go by the nickname “Jenny.” If she were alive today, she would be 60 years old.
If you have any information on the disappearance of Virginia Welch, you can contact the Roanoke Police Department at 540-853-2211.
Anne Riggin was 25 when she went missing from her home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on May 28, 1982. She’s a white female, 5 ‘ 3 “ tall and 115 pounds. She has light brown hair and blue eyes. She has a scar above her left eye and has previously fractured her collarbone. She goes by the nickname “Annie.” If alive today, she would be 63 years old.
If you have any information on the disappearance of Anne Riggin, you can contact the Pennsylvania State Police at 717-671-7542.
I’ll also leave information here about another Jane Doe found in the same county in 1991. I came across her her a lot in my research so I thought I’d mention her here. (Here's another reconstruction of this Jane Doe.) I’ll also leave some information below about a John Doe found in the same county in 2016. Because if I can bring even a little bit of attention to these cases, why not?
So that’s all I have for you today on the Cheerleader in the Trunk. Obviously there’s not a lot of information publicly available, but there is quite a bit of discussion and speculation on it. I encourage you to check out the sources here if you find this case interesting.