INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A Hoosier woman waited three decades for answers in the disappearance of her sister, only to find out she'd been a Jane Doe states away for an almost equal amount of time.
The last time Liza Plummer saw her big sister, Tina McKenney Farmer, was at Liza's birthday 35 years ago.
"We never just thought that you know we would ever see her again," Plummer said.
After a Thanksgiving gathering in Indianapolis that year, Plummer said her 21-year-old sister vanished. She was then reported missing out of Indianapolis.
"I always wondered where she was and watched my mom have to leave this earth not knowing where one of her kids are," Plummer said. "And then you know certain siblings thinking that it's Tina's fault the way you know if they think she did this on her own. She didn't. She was pushed into it."
She believes Tina was pushed into the wrong crowd with the wrong guy at a young age. She sensed her sister was gone forever, but when authorities couldn't find answers, Liza looked for her own.
"These are all different leads that I got along the way," Plummer said thumbing through pieces of paper.
She drove to truck stops, talked to people who knew Tina, took lots of notes and eventually brought the search for her sister to social media.
"You can have you know good times, you have your cookouts, you have your gatherings with your family and you raise kids, she never left my mind," Plummer said.
Plummer said she made sure to tell Tina's daughter about her before she too passed away. Then late last year, a knock on the door was finally the break she'd waited so long to hear.
"I just dropped. I didn't know what to say. Unbelievable," Plummer said.
She learned Tina's body had been found along Interstate 75 in Campbell County, Tennessee on New Year’s in 1985, just a few months after she said her family last saw her.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was called to help the sheriff's office in the homicide investigation. Investigators said an autopsy showed she may have died several days before her body was discovered. They couldn't make an identification, so Tina was listed as a Jane Doe and her remains were stored at the University of Tennessee.
TBI said in August 2018 they were alerted them to a blog post about Tina's missing persons case. She matched the description of the Jane Doe and the fingerprints matched up.
When asked why it took so long for her to be identified, TBI said she was not entered into the databases they use to connect the dots in these kinds of cases.
A spokesperson said information about the unidentified victim was entered into NamUs but Tina wasn't entered into systems as a missing person. IMPD confirmed police did not upload her case to NamUs or any other websites.
"It's kind of the nation's silent mass disaster," said Todd Matthews, the director of case management and communications for NamUs.
NamUs stands for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. It's a newer resource funded by the Institute of Justice, coming online in the 2000's.
"Usually that's the primary ingredient of a John or Jane Doe is the lack of a missing persons report or maybe it was reported locally and not shared in a national database," Matthews said.
At last check, NamUs showed 184 active missing people and 55 unidentified people in Indiana. It allows not only law enforcement to upload cases, but also allows civilians to upload cases their team verifies.
One database used by law enforcement is the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, run by the FBI. Police use it for a number of tasks, including cases of missing or unidentified people. The Crime Justice Information Services reports at the end of April there were 973 active missing persons records and 28 active unidentified persons records in the NCIC for Indiana.
"The databases in the 70's and 80's didn't exist, you know NCIC, IDEX, VICAP with the FBI, the clearinghouse the national clearinghouse for missing and exploited children is only come online here in recent years, recent decades and then again NamUs has come online which is extremely helpful," Indiana State Police Lt. Jeffrey Hearon said.
Right now if someone remains unidentified after 30 days in Indiana, the coroner must request state police enter it into NCIC.
Matthews said states like New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and New York require law enforcement upload cases to NamUs.
"Every state works differently and I would like to see, some states have passed state law that require the use of NAMUS. Say after 30 days they're required to put missing or unidentified. I know it has been talked about in Indiana," he said.
IMPD and Indiana State Police use both of the databases today. IMPD said older cases are updated to the newest reporting systems and re-entered in NCIC.
ISP has also worked to upload older cases to modern databases.
"We did back in the day, I guess back when we first started with the DNA and the CODIS and it's continually run periodically and then as technology comes online we reload them in," Lt. Hearon said. "Can I say that every one of them has been loaded back in? No I can't but we are working to that."
Authorities working to identify missing persons in challenging cases are getting new hope as technology continues to evolve, too.
"The hope is that as the ancestry dot com, is the genealogy type DNA starts becoming more and more available that we can get access to that, that we can submit that information into those databases and pull from that. But then again you get into issues with privacy," Lt. Hearon said.
The time it takes to run a DNA test has decreased, according to retired FBI agent Doug Kouns. Kouns now runs Veracity, a private investigation and security firm.
"There's also what's called a familial DNA search and even if you don't get an exact match for your unknown you might get a familial match," Kouns said. "So what the database is telling you is there's a strong chance that this person or persons are family members of your unknown, so you can go talk to them and say hey we've got this person show them pictures is this a family member of yours?"
Inside a lab at IUPUI, a team is working to advance DNA technology, too.
"Our main goal is to use it for intelligence purposes," said Assistant Professor Susan Walsh, with the Department of Biology.
They want to give investigators extra information when they need somewhere else to turn. Walsh said they've helped with cold cases and even with identifying fallen soldiers from WWII for Australian armed forces. Walsh said she hopes their technology is used more.
"We work on DNA phenotyping so that's the ability to predict a physical appearance from genetics," Walsh said. "We're working on developing facial morphology next. It's more difficult as of right now you cannot predict the face from genetics. You can do a good job at predicting pigmentation levels, eye, hair and skin and we're hoping to add more traits as we go."
Liza still holds out hope she will find out what really happened to her sister. She collects newspaper clippings, the autopsy report, photos, anything she can find. Because after finding out where Tina was all those years, she has even more questions.
"I don't have to wonder no more, now I gotta wonder who did it," Plummer said.
Some community members speculate whoever killed Tina may also be responsible for the deaths of several other women. In fact, a high school class in Tennessee even dug into them to come up with the theory a serial killer may be behind it.
"Well we really got interested in a series of local murders that were kind of collectively known as the red head murders," Elizabethton High School teacher Alex Campbell said. "So we investigated those and then we tried to see if there was a connection between the victims and through investigation we felt that maybe about 6 of these victims were probably connected to the same murderer."
Campbell said they looked at Jane Does in Wetzel County, West Virginia, Knox County, Tennessee, Green County, Tennessee, Cheetham County, Tennessee, Campbell County, Tennessee (Tina's case) and another case in Arkansas just outside of Memphis. Since then, more of the Jane Does have been identified, including Tina.
"What these ladies had in common was they were all found either beside a U.S. highway or an Interstate. Number two, they all had red or reddish colored hair at the time of their death. Also they were all white females about 40 or younger, not children always adults, most of them were estranged from their families, prostitutes, drug addicted, things like that," Campbell said. "And also they had all died from strangulation in some cases maybe some blunt force trauma combined with that."
Campbell said his students gathered information they could find through open sources, got insight from an FBI profiler on what leads an investigator to believe a serial killer could be involved in a case and inadvertently created what they believe to a be a profile of a possible killer.
"The students actually found 21 characteristics that they felt pretty good they could predict," Campbell said.
He said they took their findings to law enforcement agencies.
TBI hasn't confirmed or released Tina's cause of death, only that it is being investigated as a homicide. When asked if her case is linked to others and whether they were investigating whether she could be the victim of a serial killer, TBI stated it's investigating "any and all possibilities."
Now Liza Plummer waiting for more answers again.
"Sit and wait and hope they find out who did it and put her to peace," Plummer said. "I feel she can breathe again, she's her again, she’s up in heaven and her soul's complete now. Before she was just lost and now she's found."
If anyone has information about Tina's homicide, including individuals she may have been with prior to her death, call 1-800-TBI-FIND.