HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Flowers and a note that reads, "We love you and will be bringing you home soon," sit beside the grave of a woman. For 15 years, she has been known only as Jane Doe. But one family now believes answers are buried in that Hancock County grave.
"If it's not her, I would be stunned and shocked," Lori Test said. "I would totally be stunned and shocked, because I firmly believe in my heart it's her."
Lori Test is convinced the woman is her aunt Nelda Hardwick. Lori; her father, Richard Test; and their family members want the body exhumed so DNA tests can be done. They're hoping for answers, and closure.
"I would very much like for her remains to be brought home where they can be buried and the children can have a grave site to visit her," Richard Test said.
Coroner Jim Faulk said all the information from the autopsy and case information on Jane Doe matches that of Hardwick. From the hair and eye color, to the height and weight, even measurements on the face and scars on the body. Also, Hardwick had dentures and Jane Doe did not have teeth.
"If there is one chance in 1,000 that it's not, then her DNA will go on a nationwide website and be compared to missing people from coast to coast, and we will find out who she is," Faulk said.
The Jane Doe in Hancock County was hit and killed in the middle of the night walking down Interstate 10 in 1998. That was five years after Hardwick put her four children to bed in Louisiana, and wrote a note saying she was going to the store and would be back shortly. She never returned.
"I honestly think she was abducted in Lake Charles and I think she escaped from in this area and that's the reason she was out on that interstate," Richard Test said.
The past 20 years have been torture for Hardwick's family.
"I got a call the other day from a number and you just always wonder, 'Is that Nelda?'" Lori Test said.
The family now believes a call from Nelda will never come. What the family hopes for now is that the coroner will get permission to find out once and for all if Jane Doe is Nelda Hardwick.
Friday, Coroner Faulk presented the case to the judge himself, because he could not get funding to enlist the help of an attorney. The hearing was hitting a few snags, but an attorney stepped in and volunteered to take the case for Faulk and the family at no charge.
A new court hearing on whether to allow Jane Doe's body to be exhumed is set for October 18th.