DNA Doe Project
Like many other long-time genealogists, I find myself captivated by the powerful tool created with the marriage of genetics and traditional genealogy. There are so many implications both positive and negative that have come from this meeting of science and history.
While the discussion of the merits and risks of genetic testing is one that will probably never be easily settled debate, for this moment I would like to touch on one interesting positive aspect of this exciting new research frontier, the DNA Doe Project.
The DNA Doe Project was one of the first organizations that drew my interest to genetic genealogy.
While the tales of cases such as the capture of the Golden State Killer dominate headlines when they are finally cracked with the sleuthing capabilities of talented genetic genealogists such as CeCe Moore, quietly behind the scenes thousands of equally talented researchers toil on cases that will never make headlines.
The DNA Doe Project is one such organization full of dedicated and talented researchers. The people at DDP work to fundraise for extensive DNA testing of the remains of unidentified persons in the United States. Thousands of volunteers work to give the names back to these “Does” using both DNA analysis and traditional genealogy research methods to correctly identify family connections. In some of these cases the families have waited decades for closure, wondering what happened to their loved one who suddenly vanished.
Belle in the Well
The “Belle in the Well” was an unidentified person found in a well in 1981. Recently, through the work of the DDP the family of the belle in the well was identified and she was finally given back her name after nearly 4 decades.
In April 1981 2 girls playing found an unidentifiable object in a well. Authorities were contacted and the severely decomposed remains of a female were pulled from the well. The adult woman was fully clothed, except for missing shoes. She had a key for a bus locker on her body. There was not much to reveal the identity of this woman who had been so callously strangled and discarded in a well. The “Belle in the Well” would be her name until July 29, 2019.
” The woman was found wearing a pair of grey flannel pants, and a lightweight shirt under a gray pullover. She also wore a red cable-knit cardigan sweater, with rubber bands around her wrists. The only items found on her body were the key to a locker at a Greyhound terminal in Huntington, WV, a bus ticket, a pay stub, and a Jerry Falwall commemorative coin. “DNA Doe Project via original case info
Louise Peterson Flesher
Fourteen months after a DNA profile was extracted from the remains in the belle in the well, and with the efforts of thousands of volunteers, the living daughter of Louise Peterson Flesher was located and with DNA testing was performed to confirm the two were mother and daughter. The belle in the well finally had her name returned to her and a woman who had wondered for decades what happened to her mother finally had information and some closure.
The murder of Louise Peterson Flesher remains an open case.
I found myself wondering how someone goes missing for decades with no one realizing that their loved one is on an unidentified persons list. Didn’t someone wonder where Louise disappeared to for 4 decades? I looked up what I could find on Louise Peterson Flesher and the circumstances of her life before she vanished.
She had been married at one time; she had a family at one time. Her husband was a police officer. How did she wind up forgotten in that well?
From what I could find in quick research on Louise Peterson Flesher her life was at one point at least on the surface a nice life until 1959. With a little deeper digging I discovered that the Flesher’s had two daughters, the one who eventually helped identify her mother’s remains, and another daughter, Helen. Helen was born about 1939 in Wyoming. In 1940 the family is all living together. Two years later the household of Louise and her husband is back in their home state of West Virginia which is not odd. At this point I realize there was something amiss in the Flesher household. I found a death record for Helen Flesher dated 1959 in Wyoming. She died at a place called the Wyoming State Training School. Closer inspection reveals this to have been a home for the “mentally retarded and feeble minded”.
The first instance I can find of Louise and her husband not residing in the same household is the same year that their daughter Helen died, 1959, in Wyoming. The family was living in West Virginia and had been there since they left Wyoming in 1942.
Did this death of Helen cause the crumbling of the Flesher household? I can only speculate.
Louise’s and her husband divorced, and he remarried. I wish I had a crystal ball to see what happened to Louise in the years between her daughter’s death and what brought her to that well in 1981. How did she disappear, and no one wondered where she was?
While hope of solving this case is dim I am thankful that through the dedicated efforts of individuals like the volunteers at the DNA Doe Project are working tirelessly to return the names to these unidentified persons and to give closure to families who have sometimes waited decades to learn what happened to their loved ones.
The “Belle in the Well” is just one of the many cases that have been solved by the DNA Doe Project.