After 52 years, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office in Arizona has identified the murdered woman as Colleen Audrey Rice after a successful crowdfunded DNA genealogy test.
In January 1971, a group of hunters in the remote desert area of Mohave County, Arizona, stumbled upon a canvas sack. In it, they found the body of a woman that would go unidentified for over 50 years. Now, after a community crowdfunding effort, she finally has a name.
According to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, the victim was found wrapped in a canvas sack that had been tied at the top by a white cotton rope. The sack was loosely-woven, with the words “Deer-Pak Ames Harris Neville Co.,” printed on it in green. While exactly how she died remains a mystery, investigators are certain she was murdered.
Detectives were able to surmise that the body was female, approximately 35-40 years of age, roughly five feet four inches tall, weighing approximately 125-140 pounds, with curly brown hair. According to The Crime Wire, she also had a long scar on her stomach, possibly from a Cesarean section. A bone indentation found on her ring finger meant that she likely wore a wedding ring regularly. Her nails were manicured, and she was not a smoker.
She was dressed in a multi-colored long-sleeve blouse, a black long-sleeve cardigan sweater, and burnt orange stretch pants. She was also wearing a pair of black leather, ankle high boots and bobby sox.
Hoping that a dentist might recognize his or her work, details about the Jane Doe’s dental procedures were included in major dental magazines throughout the country, but nothing ever came of them.
Detectives eventually used the physical description of the body and the clothes found at the scene to commission a sketch of the victim from an artist at the nearby Museum of Northern Arizona.
According to CBS News, the sketch was released to the public, but no one came searching for the woman. No further developments would come until the sheriff’s office created the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in 1999 to investigate unsolved cases with new techniques. In 2001, Lori Miller, an investigator for the SIU was assigned the “Mohave Desert Jane Doe” case.
In an interview with CBS, Miller recalled the painstaking process of reviewing case information. They reviewed the same leads, starting with dental records and fingerprints. Miller even attempted to track down the make of the victim’s clothes, but so much time had passed and all paths seemingly led to dead ends.
In a Facebook post by the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, Othram Inc., a forensic genealogy company based in Texas, reached out to the sheriff’s office in October 2022 with an offer to see if advanced DNA testing and Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing could potentially uncover the victim’s identity.
The sheriff’s office agreed to the partnership, and donated $1,000 for testing. Despite this contribution, it was not enough to cover the full cost of testing, and the sheriff’s office quickly looked to the public for help.
“We’re a large county with a small population and a small budget,” explained Miller.
Othram helped the sheriff’s office by creating a donation website for the remaining amount of money that was required. Within five days, the community had donated $6,500 and testing was able to begin immediately.
On Jan. 23, 2023, Miller received a call. Testing had finally concluded, and her Jane Doe finally had a name: Colleen Audrey Rice.
“We gave her a name, showed she was a person and that she mattered,” said Miller.
Born in 1931, Colleen Audrey Rice grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio. Married in 1946 to a man named William Davis, Colleen Audrey Rice somehow made her way to Arizona. She would have been roughly 39 years old when she died. It is unknown if she had children.
The sheriff’s office was able to get in contact with Rice’s family, but scant details were revealed after speaking to them. According to the family, Rice was estranged from them, and they knew very little about her adult life.
The sheriff’s office is currently seeking help from the public regarding Colleen Rice’s whereabouts in Arizona, as well as the names of anyone that may have known her. Regarding Rice’s untimely death, Miller stated: “We are still on the hunt for those responsible for her death.”
After reading about the identification of Colleen Audrey Rice, discover another story about how DNA testing opened a 40-year-old double murder case wide open. Or, read about how DNA led to the identification of America’s most well-known unidentified child, dubbed “The Boy in the Box.”