Genealogy used to identify Pulaski Co. Jane Doe

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 9:59 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We’re learning how detectives identified a 40-year-old missing persons case in Pulaski County.

“Jane Doe” was finally identified as Karen Knippers.

“Our mission is to return the names to the nameless,” said Franchesca Werden, with the DNA Doe Project.

She says there are nearly 60,000 unidentified people across the country.

“These are the cases that keep the folks of law enforcement agencies who are shepherding them, up at night,” she said.

Pulaski County Sheriff’s detectives reached out the organization for their help.

A woman’s body was found at a low water crossing in Dixon in 1981. Decades later the ‘Jane Doe’ buried in the Waynesville cemetery had a name Karen Knippers.

“It’s always a thrill when the solve comes through,” said Cairenn Binder.

She was the lead on the Pulaski County case.

“I’m a nurse educator by day and a detective by night,” she said.

The volunteer investigative genetic genealogist says solving these cases often takes a lot of time.

“There’s a lot of stuff that happens before we even get involved,” said Binder.

Investigators reopened Knippers’ case in 2012 Her remains were exhumed to get DNA samples.

Then, anthropologists successfully developed a genetic profile.

That information was converted into data that’s compared to other samples electronically.

“We take a match from over here and a match from over here. We build out their family trees to see who they’re most recent, common ancestor is. In this one we were lucky we got that close DNA match and as a result of it we were able to solve it pretty quickly,” said Binder.

She matched Knippers’ DNA profile to a second cousin. That profile was then compared to her brothers.

This gave closure to not only to authorities and community but Knippers’ loved ones as well.

“A lot of these cases that we’re solving, 20, 30, 40, 50 years later the parents have always been looking for them. The family has always been looking for them and never got those answers,” said Binder.

“I really do feel that this is a humanitarian effort. It’s doing good for every community that we touch,” said Werden.

The DNA Doe Project has only been around since 2017 but have already identified more than 50 John and Jane Does across the country. They’re working on 70 more cases.

They even help small law enforcement agencies, like Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, with funding to solve cases.

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