BLAIRSTOWN -- It was 37 years ago that a worker found an unidentified, deceased young woman with a badly bludgeoned face on the grounds of the Cedar Ridge Cemetery.
While crime-solving has become more technologically advanced since "Princess Doe" was discovered on July 15, 1982, one aspect of this case has not changed -- investigators and others hope someone, somewhere will identify her.
Within the first two years after cemetery worker George Kice found an unidentified, slightly decomposing body of a half-clothed young woman down a wooded embankment on the cemetery's property, Princess Doe -- the moniker given to the unknown female -- was still considered a "warm case" with leads still actively pouring in.
Today, those leads have dwindled to a slow trickle, and Doe has fallen into the "cold case" category, as one of the leading unsolved murders on the Warren County Prosecutor's Office's website. In spite of the case's age, the plight of the mysterious woman has continued to touch the hearts of present-day detectives, as it did the investigators who preceded them.
Warren County Prosecutor Richard T. Burke said Wednesday the passage of time has not dulled the pain law enforcement feels for this unresolved crime, and he hopes that a long-lost family member, friend or acquaintance will recognize her from any image -- whether of her clothing, or the latest rendering on the prosecutor's office website.
"It's hard to think that she was someone's daughter or sister and unaccounted for, for so long," Burke said. "It's a very hard case when you don't even have the person identified, and it makes your heart hurt."
Burke said the Cold Case Unit in his office juggles this case and others. Especially around the anniversary of Doe's discovery, there may be phone calls with potential leads that the office investigates. The latest rendering of Doe, compiled from a Smithsonian Institute reconstruction and imaging of her skull, is how investigators believe she looked.
While retired investigators uncovered more clues as DNA technology advanced in the late 1990s, Burke said that technology continues to evolve. Over the last two years, he said the prosecutor's office has been brainstorming with genealogy providers like Ancestry on how to extract Doe's usable DNA to potentially connect her to a surviving relative, with some of her DNA potentially unusable due to the passage of time.
Like investigators of the past, Burke also hopes that they are one step closer to discovering the identity of the presently nameless young woman.
The first with the mission to discover Doe's identity was the one who first called her "Princess Doe" of Cedar Ridge. Retired Blairstown Police Lt. Eric Kranz surmised in 1982, according to New Jersey Herald archive articles, that the woman was approximately between the ages of 15 and 20, and was "probably someone's princess" at one time in her life.
Even after his retirement in 1986, Kranz never lost interest in the case. He was the first to arrange a sculptor to depict Doe's likeness from police photographs and was also the first to come up with an unconventional idea that offended some: placing Doe's garments on a mannequin at a press conference in 1982, which started the phone ringing with leads at the police station.
Kran had planned to head to Texas to question serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in prison after Lucas claimed he killed a young woman in New Jersey and dumped her body in a cemetery, but a Texas judge placed a gag order on Kranz before he could. Kranz never believed Doe was missing teen Diane Dye from California, while other authorities attempted to push the match.
It was suspected Doe was killed two days before she was found. She was wearing a red cutoff blouse, with her red printed peasant-style skirt draped over her legs and a cross necklace tangled in her hair. With her skull fractured in multiple locations, potentially from a bat or iron tool, and the beginning of body decomposition from the July heat, she could not be identified.
In 1983, while Doe's body remained in the morgue unclaimed until early January, with investigators holding out hope among the dead-end leads for the day a family member would come forward, she was the first unidentified person entry into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database.
Kranz and others hoped someone would claim her so she could be taken to a familiar place for a proper burial. Instead, her adopted Blairstown family raised funds for her funeral and gathered for a solemn ceremony at the Cedar Ridge Cemetery. Like later investigators, Kranz told reporters over the years, he believed she may have been a displaced young person, separated from her loved ones somehow.
Kranz is not the only member of retired law enforcement who was moved by this case. Retired Warren County Prosecutor's Office Lt. Stephen Speirs covered similar ground. Both have been on television programs on HBO, CNN and other channels about the case, and Speirs also made waves when he displayed Doe's garments on a mannequin during a memorial service.
Like Kranz, Speirs said in an interview last week with the New Jersey Herald, he also believes Doe was a transient. He was assigned the cold case in 1998 and successfully obtained an affidavit to have her body exhumed for DNA in 1999. DNA testing ruled out she was Diane Dye -- the missing California runaway Kranz had ruled out years earlier -- but suggested that she may have lived in Arizona and then in Long Island, because of certain chemical isotope analysis extracted from her exhumed remains. Speirs said a former Long Island pimp named Arthur Kinlaw, who is in prison for other crimes, has remained on the list of suspects, although he has not yet been connected with the crime.
The case still stays with Speirs. "It's hard to understand how one human being can do this to another," he said of the murder.
Doe touches a network of others
Speirs and Kranz now participate in guest speaking events together. Others have played roles including former Blairstown resident Travis Riggs, who connected with Speirs on the case. Riggs volunteered to create a website and purchased the domain name princessdoe.org, to feature factual information about her.
Author Christie Leigh Napurano, who grew up in Blairstown, wrote the fictional book "The Untold Story of Princess Doe." Speirs forged an unusual alliance with Napurano since he is the fact-keeper and she has created fiction, but whose tale of fiction matched one of Speirs' theories about Doe. Napurano, who runs the website whoisprincessdoe.com, has participated in guest speaking events and will be at an upcoming one with Speirs and Kranz in Blairstown.
Tour, memorial and educational programs about Doe
This year the Blairstown Museum plans to host a no-cost public remembrance for Doe at her final resting place; other individuals have hosted Doe's services every five years. Additionally, the museum has organized a tour prior to the remembrance that has sold out, with 14 tour attendees to be transported by trolley to the different locations where Doe may have been and finishing with a celebration of life toast at a local winery.
Museum owner and curator Jeanette Iurato said the case has moved her and she hopes to raise awareness about the young woman's life and to coordinate public remembrances in years other than the five-year anniversaries.
The tour by trolley has sparked some outrage and an online petition started by Blairstown residents, who did not agree with the idea of the tour.
The public remembrance ceremony on Monday at 8:15 p.m. at the Cedar Ridge Cemetery at 117 Route 94, will include flowers distributed to attendees in limited quantities to place on Doe's grave. So that organizers can order adequate flowers, the museum asks attendees to preregister for the remembrance event at: www.eventbrite.com/e/princess-doe-memorial-tickets-62713311202.
The Blairstown Museum also will offer two free educational programs about Princess Doe with Kranz, Speirs and Napurano leading the panel at Historic Blairstown Day on Sunday, Aug. 11, at 1 and 3 p.m.
The search for answers continues
Speirs said he vowed, even when retired from law enforcement, to remain on the quest for Doe's identity. He continues to work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where Doe is cross-referenced under the organization's website.
Any tips about Doe can be called into the organization at 800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST).
Burke said anyone with any information about Princess Doe can also contact the Warren County Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Unit at 908-475-6275.
Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; and on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH.