Two months ago, D.C. police discovered the skeletal remains of a woman near a Northeast Washington park. She had been there so long that grass had grown through the hem of her light-weight skirt.
Deputy D.C. Medical Examiner Brian Blackbourne was able to determine from the bone structure that the skeleton was that of a black female about 25 to 40 years old. He also found that she had been strangled at least a year ago.
But that was it. No one knew the woman's identity.
Now, a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist has provided more physical characteristics about the woman by examing the bones, and a Virginia medical examiner's technician, in a scene reminiscent of the pages of the best-selling novel "Gorky Park," reconstructed the woman's face with the use of her skull.
As a result, D.C. police yesterday identified the body as that of 26-year-old Jan Darcell Few, who was reported missing in September 1979.
"We were faced with two separate investigations," said Detective Ronald Taylor, a homicide investigator. "We had to find out who she was.Now we have to solve the murder."
It was the first time D.C. police have physically reconstructed a face to help learn the identity of a person.
For the last two months, homicide investigators painstakingly searched for any clues that might lead to the woman's identity. Thay went through the missing persons reports of black females in the 25-to-40 age bracket and found that there were 107 cases. They began making calls to the relatives and friends of the missing persons to find out if the woman may have been one of those reported missing.
Blackbourne washed the woman's grass-strained light brown shirt and her beige blouse with purple flowers 16 times until investigators were able to discern a pattern and design in the blouse. According to the label, the blouse was made by Liz Roberts Inc., a New York manufacturer. Investigators found that three stores in the Washington area sold such blouses and eventually police hoped to figure out who bought the blouses found on the skeleton.
But examination of the bones and other efforts proved more fruitful. Dr. Lawrence Angel, curator of physical anthropology for the Smithsonian, determined that the woman was about 5 feet 11, that she had a fracture on one of her legs that probably came from a traffic accident when she was a girl and that she may have borne a child.
D.C. police held a press conference a month ago and displayed a mannequin dressed in the woman's shirt and blouse in hopes that someone would identify the outfit.
A few days later, Few's mother called and told the police that she believed that the clothing was that of her daughter.
Police talked to the mother, obtained a picture of her missing daughter and confirmed that Jan Few had indeed been in an accident when she was 10 years old. But police still did not feel certain of the identification.
Meanwhile, the skull had been taken to the chief medical examiner's office in Richmond.
Thomas Goyne, who works as an independent consultant for the state medical examiner's office, reconstructed the woman's face.
Goyne, who has done 13 reconstructions of faces from skulls, said he placed 21 pin markers in various spots on the skull at established depths, cut strips of clay and connected the clay to each marker.
"The skul dictates the way the person looks," said Goyne, who took five days to complete the reconstruction.
Goyne had never seen a photograph of Few, but when police looked at the reconstructed face, they found that it closely resembled the picture of the missing women. Still, police were not completely satisfied with the identification.
Since they now had a likely name, they were able to locate a dentist who had one extracted two of the woman's teeth. The dentist provided them with an X-ray of the two teeth.
Dr. David Sipes, a Vienna dentist, took X-rays of the skull and compared them with the other dentist's previous X-rays. They matched and the postive identification was made.
"Through the culmination of all these activities we were able to identify her," said Lt. William Ritchie, who headed the investigation.
Police said anyone with information on the death of Few who lived at 1436 R St. NW, should contract the homicide squad at 727-4347.