BOONE COUNTY, Ind. — After nearly 30 years, a woman found dead along I-65 in Boone County finally has a name.
On Wednesday, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office provided an update on the case of a person found dead on the side of I-65 in 1992. The person was believed to be strangled, but it was difficult to determine the cause of death.
The office identified Jane Doe as 17-year-old Margaret Ann Sniegowski Jr. DNA evidence lead police to her family members to provide some closure to their loss.
The case has now transitioned from trying to identify the body to a homicide investigation, trying to figure out who killed the girl and dumped her body.
Discovering Jane Doe
In the case, Don Lawson, an off-duty firefighter plowing his field, noticed a body face down in a few inches of water in the drainage ditch. Sheriff deputies determined the woman had been in the ditch for almost a week, badly deteriorating the body.
Lawson attended the sheriff’s press conference and said he too is relieved the victim has been identified.
“Now I know who Jane Doe is. She’s not just someone I found. She’s someone’s family member,” said Lawson.
The Indianapolis Star reported the woman was believed to be between 20 and 40 years old. She was approximately 5’6″ tall and was wearing a yellow halter top and green anklet socks. She had reddish-brown hair and several tattoos, including a cross with hearts and the word love on her chest and one of the word “mom” on her right arm, and a cross on her right hand.
Buried, but not forgotten
The woman was buried in a pauper’s grave near the Boone County Sheriff’s Office with a temporary marker of “unidentified female” marking what would be her resting place. Several members of the Lebanon community attended, with police acting as the pallbearers.
She would not remain in the ground for long, however. Over the years, efforts have been made to bring new life to the case.
Giving Jane Doe a face
A November 1993 report from the Indianapolis Star reports that the sheriff at the time, along with a detective, was at a seminar at Michigan State University where they learned of the latest reconstruction techniques of the time.
The office was able to get a court order to exhume her body to remove the skull and pelvic bone. The pelvic bone would be used to help experts determine her age. The skull was cleaned and brought to Michigan where a lab technician and forensic pathologist examined and attempted to reconstruct the face.
“DNA wasn’t even around so I think the best thought they had was to get a physical description of the female, to get that pushed out to see if anyone recognized her,” Lt. Jason Reynolds with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said.
At the time, the office distributed fliers with the reconstruction photo, hoping someone would recognize the victim. The sheriff also noted the teeth had extensive dental work.
“Some dentist’s office somewhere in this country has got those dental records,” then-Sheriff Ern Hudson told the Indianapolis Star, “So if we could get a tip or lead on her identity, we might be able to get a positive ID if we knew where to look.”
That lead never came.
A fresh look at the investigation
The remains were buried again in the pauper’s grave until, two decades later, she was exhumed again to collect additional evidence.
“It’s always haunted me,” Sheriff Mike Nielsen told the Indianapolis Star, “the disrespect of whoever did this to throw her like a piece of trash and, second, that we’ve never been able to identify her.”
The 1993 sculpture, along with the woman’s body, were delivered to the University of Indianapolis for a fresh take on the investigation.
A team from the Archeology and Forensics Laboratory performed a forensic anthropology analysis. The team was looking to see if they could find any indicators of the cause of death for her bones.
Later that year, Crime Watch Daily picked up the story when tests out of the University of Indianapolis indicated that the woman was from the Southwest region of the United States.
In 2018, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office attempted again to use the latest technologies to put a face to the victim. Using forensic artists, they were able to create new facial reconstruction images. Again, the office hoped someone would recognize her.
“This case has haunted this office for over two decades. We desperately want to solve this horrible crime,” Sheriff Nielsen said in a 2018 Facebook post. “We owe it to Jane Doe and her family. We will never forget Jane Doe.”
Again, the case would continue to haunt them.
DNA evidence gives Jane Doe a name
In 2021, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office was able to collect enough DNA from the bones to collect a DNA profile. A similar genealogical investigation has helped crack several cases, including a 1988 cold case in Fort Wayne. In that case, police used what is called familial DNA testing, which analyzes DNA samples with public genealogy data.
Investigators uploaded the DNA profile to the forensic genetic genealogy database in September and were able to make a potential identification from that process by November. They researched the name, leading them to a potential brother and sister of Jane Doe. Testing from those siblings finally let the office confirm the body to be Margaret Ann Sniegowski Jr.
“It’s been 30 years since I’ve seen Maggie,” said the victim’s brother Lenny Sniegowski. “It’s just one less thing to worry about. All that’s gone now.”
For his part, Margaret’s brother hopes the case gives comfort to other families as well.
“There’s hope out there for people who don’t know where their family members might be. I’m living proof,” said Lenny.
Ending one phase, beginning another
Sheriff Mike Nielsen flew down to Texas a few weeks before Wednesday to let Margaret’s family know they knew what happened to her. In an office, Leonard Sniegowski Jr. sat conducting his business.
When Sheriff Nielsen showed up in front of Leonard’s glass door showing his badge, he was not sure what to think.
“I hear the knock and I look and areas with the badge and he’s a giant of a guy and I said, well, this is it,” Leonard said. “I don’t know what I did, but it’s I’m caught.”
Sheriff Nielsen was able to sit down with Leonard to provide the closure he had not had for the past 30 years. They sat together and cried before getting ready for what would come next.
“We made a promise 30 years ago that we would find out who she was,” said Sheriff Nielsen. “We kept that promise and we will keep the promise moving forward that we will find out who’s responsible and we will bring them to justice along with the prosecutor and everybody else.”
The office is now conducting a forensic review to make sure what was investigated in the past matches the science today. They hope this discovery in the case provides people the motivation to submit their own DNA in hopes it will help provide another family some closure.
“If you think there’s a possibility that somebody still alive, or maybe died a long time ago and you just don’t know about it, then do this. Go submit your DNA, put it into that database, and help solve these crimes and I think with the technology and the businesses that we partnered with now, it’s really a good working environment to be able to move forward and solve other crimes as well,” said Sheriff Nielsen.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-THE-LOST or the Boone County Sheriff’s Office at (765)482-1412.