Coroner prepares to exhume Jane Doe

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The family of a woman missing for more than a decade is still waiting for an unidentified body to be exhumed in Hancock County to see if those remains belong to their loved one.

Though a judge signed off on the exhumation in October, before any digging can be done, the coroner, state medical examiner and others are working to make sure they know exactly where Jane Doe was buried.

Hurricane Katrina has made the task difficult.

"The little metal signs that marked the graves were blown away and washed away," Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk said.

Rotten Bayou Cemetery workers tried their best to put the headstones in the right place but with no records it was difficult. For Faulk to find any remains he cannot just guess, he needs an exact location so he had to start from scratch.

Luckily he stumbled upon a picture online of the grave site taken just days after the unidentified woman was buried in 1998. He tracked the photographer to the Doe Network and called the organization.

"They searched her old files at Doe Network and found the uncropped picture showing the monuments back here," Faulk said.

This was a huge break for Faulk. Instead of having to map the entire cemetery or find a way to get a ground penetrating radar done for free, Faulk was able to use the picture.

He did some calculations of his own then found a surveyor in the phone book to get professional help.

Don Ried makes a living doing land surveys but he donated his time to help with this case." I just used the graves behind us and measured how long it was between headstones and they all seemed to be 12 feet long and seven feet apart so I measured over here and down," Ried said.  "I'm a Vietnam veteran and I lost a lot of friends over there and I've had non closure for 40 years and to help someone get closure meant a lot."

Bay High Math Teacher Joseph Williams also volunteered his time to help.  "He wanted some confirmation mathematically that what he was doing manually was accurate," Williams said. "I used the Pythagorean theorem to figure out where the grave was."

With Williams' calculations matching Ried's, Faulk feels even more confident he will be able to find remains of Jane Doe.

The family of a Louisiana woman, Nelda Hardwick, believe Jane Doe is Hardwick. They are hoping Faulk will be able to find some remains soon and finally bring them some closure.

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