An unidentified teenager was found eight years ago behind a strip mall in Tempe, Arizona. I call her “Tempe’s Jane Doe.”
She was between 15 and 19, of Latino, Native American or biracial descent, with straight dark hair and brown eyes. She had a scar on the top of her left shoulder and a small, “L-shaped” scar on the back of her left hand. Her death, caused by cocaine intoxication, was ruled neither an accident nor a homicide. “There’s just not enough information to know,” said Detective John Thompson of the Tempe Police Department.
She was wearing a red halter top, blue jeans with a side zipper, blue underwear, and one black shoe. She was about 5 feet tall, weighed 125 pounds and her fingernails were partially coated with purple nail polish. A case of CDs was found near her body. “We looked at those CDs to see if there were any fingerprints on it and there were,” Thompson said. The prints led police to a local woman who said that the CDs belonged to her and that she had last seen them in her vehicle. She said that she had no idea who the dead woman was but that her boyfriend had access to her vehicle on the day that the body was found, Thompson said, recounting what the woman told police.
Investigators talked with the boyfriend, who said that a woman he did not know waved him down as he drove by the mall. According to Thompson, the boyfriend said that he told police that he picked up the woman. She asked him to drive her to a nearby store. Minutes later, she changed her mind and asked to be driven to another location, where she met with a man who got into the back seat and sold her cocaine. The driver communicated with the young woman in Spanish, he said.
“During the ride, she mentioned that she’d just been kicked out of her house and didn’t have anywhere to stay,” Thompson said, recalling the driver’s account. According to the driver, the young woman snorted the cocaine and went into convulsions. While Thompson said he believed the investigation showed that she had likely snorted a lethal amount of cocaine, he added, “I don’t think it was a completely spectacular amount.” Eggers, the medical examiner’s investigator, said that she could not disclose how much cocaine was found in the dead woman’s system.
The driver told police that he took the woman out of the vehicle, instructed the man who had been with her in the back seat to call 911 from a nearby gas station, and then the drive drove away. “Whether she fell or was pushed out of a car, or got out on her own, we don’t know,” Thompson said. “We do have a 911 call that came in from Circle K, but the call was unintelligible.”
Thompson said that authorities were not able to press charges against the driver, because the medical examiner was unable to determine whether the female was a juvenile or whether she was still alive at the time that she left the vehicle. “There is a statute for concealment of a dead body, but we don’t have anything to say she’s deceased at the time he dropped her off,” he said.
The investigation focused on the area near where the teen’s body was found. Her clothing was not of a particular brand that was specific to any region, Thompson said. “What’s very strange about it is we don’t even know if we have matches,” Eggers said. “Usually with a missing person, we’ll compare the dental records or DNA and rule out a lot of cases, but so far there’s been no one we’ve compared her to.”
The woman’s fingerprints, dental records, DNA, and other identifying information have been entered into identity databases, including CODIS and NCIC. Anyone with information about the case can call the Tempe Police Silent Witness Line at 1-480-WITNESS. Read more here.