- In 1995, the skeletal remains of a woman's body were found in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
- Police estimated the remains had been in a wooded area behind a local diner for two to three years.
- A DNA profile was created from the remains and used to identify the body as Merrybeth Hodgkinson.
On Tuesday, the Bensalem Police Department in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, announced that a Jane Doe found dead behind a local diner in 1995 had been identified as Merrybeth Hodgkinson after extensive genealogical testing.
Police found Hodgkinson's remains unclothed and wrapped in a plastic tarp, which they estimated had been in a wooded area behind the diner for two to three years, the department said in a press release. While an autopsy determined her age, height, and other identifying details, investigators struggled to find any missing-person reports that matched her description.
—Innovative Forensic Investigations (@InnovativeFore2) December 21, 2021
Hodgkinson's remains were buried under the name Jane Doe in Telford, Pennsylvania. Bensalem Police Department Detective Chris McMullin reopened her case in 2002.
McMullin told Insider that after he obtained a federal grant in 2004, he convinced the department to have the remains of two Jane Does, including Hodgkinson, exhumed and sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where DNA profiles were built with the hope of identifying them.
McMullin said his department also collaborated with the Doe Network, a nonprofit organization that helps law enforcement with missing-persons cases. Doe Network provided a forensic sculptor and sketch artists to assist with the cases.
At the Center for Human Identification, DNA was extracted and uploaded into the CODIS system, a national DNA database created and maintained by the FBI, in an attempt to identify her. The system yielded no results.
The police department eventually contracted with the DNA-testing service Bode Technology Group this year, which uploaded the DNA profiles of the Jane Does into the genealogy sites GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, McMullin told Insider.
Through genealogy research and DNA-comparison testing against her surviving siblings, from whom she'd been estranged at the time of her death, authorities determined that the 1995 Jane Doe was Hodgkinson. She vanished around September 1992 at the age of 31 after visiting her family in Warminster, Pennsylvania, according to the Bensalem Police Department.
"It felt great. This was one of two, and we had solved the other one in January of this year," McMullin said. "I was very relieved because I didn't want to give up. I felt it was worth hanging in there and trying to identify this girl."
Now that detectives know her identity, McMullin said they were trying to follow the victimology and discover who was in Hodgkinson's life around the time she disappeared.
The Center for Human Identification, Bode Technology Group, and Innovative Forensic Investigations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Anyone who knew Hodgkinson is encouraged to contact McMullin at 215-633-3726 or Detective Greg Beidler of the Bucks County District Attorney's Office at 215-348-6344.