Cold Case: Police hope new DNA test will reveal identity of headless woman

Local News

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – It was early on a Sunday morning, May 30, 1976. A couple out fishing on the Chesapeake Bay noticed two green garbage bags floating in the water. Suspicious, they called police, who pulled out the bags and found a woman’s body inside.

As gruesome as this is, Virginia Beach detective Kevin Fanelli said, it gets worse, “Her head and her fingers at the middle knuckles were severed and missing.”

It seemed in the days before DNA testing someone wanted to make sure this victim wouldn’t be identified.

Now, 43 years later, Fanelli told 10 On Your Side they still know very little about her. “Where she came from, where she was going, where she was supposed to be.”

They were able to determine she was 35-45 years old, about 5’5 and 140 pounds. She had a couple red and brown moles on her neck and a faint 5 1/2 inch scar running up the back of her right thigh. Detectives put that information out on radio and television. They generated a lot of leads on missing persons.

“The most notable missing person investigated was a newscaster from New York City named Carol Schneiderman. She went missing under suspicious circumstances,” Fanelli explained.

Schneiderman was eventually ruled out, along with a long list of other missing women.

Investigators also learned a cruise ship came through the area around 2 a.m. the morning the victim was found. Detectives went to the ship and got a list of more than 900 people on board. Again, they turned up nothing.

There’s renewed hope because of DNA testing. Fanelli told WAVY.com, “We are very hopeful with this new DNA testing that we will have some great luck.”

A new type of DNA profile will tell police about the victim’s ethnicity and traits passed down generation to generation; things like eye and hair color. It may even be able to show them what her face might have looked like.

Once they gather all that information, they will upload it on the Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch websites.

“It compares the victim’s DNA profile with all the other DNA profiles that they have in their system and it will come up with, if there’s anything there, with a family DNA relative,” Fanelli said.

An autopsy showed the victim had given birth at least once. “Somewhere out there, probably my age or a little older, may be a son or a daughter who never knew their mother, never knew why she didn’t come back home or what happened to her.”

Fanelli encourages anyone with a missing person in their past to submit their DNA to these websites. “And even though the news in the end won’t be a happy story, it will bring closure to a very important question they have in their lives.”

Police do not have access to any DNA you may have submitted to sites like Ancestry.com. You must submit it with approval to the sites.

Also, if you have any information that might help detectives, you can call Detective Fanelli directly at (757) 385-4467 or leave an anonymous tip on the Crime Line: 1-888-LOCK-U-UP. You can also text a tip through the P3 tips mobile app or leave it on the Crimesolvers website.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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