No ruling on Jane Doe, but niece ordered to clean grave marker

The Jane Doe in Hancock County was hit and killed in the middle of the night walking down Interstate 10 in 1998.
The Jane Doe in Hancock County was hit and killed in the middle of the night walking down Interstate 10 in 1998.
In 1993, Nelda 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.
In 1993, Nelda 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.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The family of a woman missing for 20 years will have to wait another week to find out if a judge will allow the remains of a woman buried in Hancock County to be exhumed for DNA testing.

Nelda Hardwick went missing from Louisiana in 1993. Five years later, an unknown woman was hit by a vehicle as she walked across I-10 in Hancock County in the middle of the night.

Fifteen years after that death, Hardwick's family is hoping they can finally find out if "Jane Doe" is their loved one.

Hardwick's family members took the stand Friday trying to convince Judge Lisa Dodson that the woman buried in Hancock County 15 years ago is their loved one.

"She didn't have teeth, she got them taken out," said Richard Test, Hardwick's brother-in-law.

"She had a scar about here like this," Hardwick's sister, Sharon Melon, testified.

"That's Nelda," Hardwick's niece, Lori Test, said as tears came to her eyes. "It was instant recognition, face, eyes physical appearance."

Much of the description matches what's in the original case file created by the Hancock County Sheriff's Department in 1998 after the woman buried here was killed. There were many similarities: neither had teeth or their ears pierced. But it was what didn't match up that left the judge questioning if Jane Doe really could be Nelda Hardwick.

Sharon Melon testified that her sister had a scar on her right arm from a polio vaccine. The autopsy report showed Jane Doe also had a scar, but it was on her left arm, not right.

Also, the woman did have a scar on her stomach near her belly button, but it was below the naval, not above it like Hardwick's family described.

"I still truly believe it's Nelda," Richard Test said. "No matter who it is, it needs to be identified."

"I just wish they would give us the opportunity to find out, just the opportunity. I don't think that's to much to ask," Lori test said. "I know they have the laws and everything, but sometimes you have to put in the human factor. These laws are made for people and not machines."

Hardwick's family described her eyes as hazel. Some said it was a mix of green and grey while others said they were a green/blue mix.

The coroner wrote them down as gray, leaving the judge to question the identity even more.

Judge Dodson said she needed a week to read the entire case file before she makes a ruling.

But before she will announce her decision, she ordered Lori Test to clean the grave marker she defaced.

"Tell me why you wrote on the headstone?" Judge Dodson asked.

"Because, I guess, having a moment of emotion, I couldn't stand the thought that she was sitting in there without her name on there," Lori Test answered.

Leaving the courtroom, the family was disappointed, but still hopeful the final ruling will be in their favor.

Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk has been contacted by five other law enforcement agencies or families who believe Jane Doe could be a missing person they know. Hardwick's family said even if it's not Nelda, exhuming the body might be able to give another family some closure.

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