1976 Illinois cold case victim identified as JoAnn ‘Vicky’ Smith

A decades-old cold case is one step closer to being solved after law enforcement identified the victim who was found dead in unincorporated Seneca, Illinois, in 1976.

On Oct. 2, 1976, the body of a Black woman between the ages of 15-27 was found by a local farmer in a ditch along U.S. Route 6 near Holderman Hill.

The Grundy County Coroner's Office said the victim had been shot in the head and left in a rural area.

After time passed with no significant leads, the victim, who was known as Jane Seneca Doe, was buried in an unmarked grave at the Braceville-Gardner Cemetery on Thanksgiving Day 1976.

An artist-rendered-image of how Jane Seneca Doe may have appeared in life. Image courtesy of volunteer artist, Carl Koppelman.

In 2017, the case was reopened by the coroner's office. Her remains were exhumed in December 2018 and in 2019, the coroner partnered with the DNA Doe Project to use modern-day forensic science techniques and technology to identify her.

She was identified as JoAnn ‘Vicky’ Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio. Officials said most didn't know she existed because she was adopted. Her brother said both of Vicky's families are processing the bittersweet feelings.

"This has really been very hard on our family over the years of not knowing what happened. We always treated Vicky as present and among us, as alive. When my parents deceased, she was always referred to in the present tense," said Ronnie Smith, Vicky's brother.

The investigation to find her killer is ongoing.