The Buckskin Girl

Reconstruction of the victim.
Reconstruction of the victim.

Buckskin Girl is the nickname given to an unidentified female murder victim discovered in 1981 in Troy, Miami County, Ohio. She is known for her distinct hairstyle along with the tasseled suede jacket she wore. The victim may have been murdered by a serial killer that had killed many prostitutes or dancers in the area, although this specific case had no indication of sexual activity.

Discovery and Death

The girl was found within thirty-six and fifty hours of her death off of Ohio State Route 55, near Greenlee Road in Newton Township, Troy, Ohio after police responded to a call stating that a woman’s body had been found along a road. A passerby had first noticed the victim’s poncho and soon after discovered the victim’s body.

The body had been placed face-down and the victim had suffered trauma to the head, strangulation and her shoes were absent from the scene.

Morgue photograph.
Morgue photograph.

Authorities believed that she had been killed elsewhere and left on the road after her death. Some believe she may have been a teenage runaway or a possible victim of a serial killer who had murdered multiple prostitutes in the region. However, the scene showed no signs of sexual assault, rape or other sexual activity, indicating that the Buckskin Girl had not been a sex worker. Because of the absence of footwear, some believe she may have been murdered by an abusive significant other. A retired investigator stated that the victim was not likely from the area where she was found.

Morgue photograph.
Morgue photograph.

Description

The young woman’s reddish-brown hair was braided into pigtails on both sides of her head. Blue rubber bands had been used to hold the braids in place. Her eyes were a “light brown” and she had many freckles across her face. Her nose was described to be “very pointed” as well. Her personal hygiene was described to be well maintained, and all of her teeth, including the wisdom teeth, were in good condition and had no evidence of fillings or other dental work, except for a porcelain crown on her upper-right incisor. The victim was described to have had a “normal” amount of pubic hair that was reddish-brown, indicating that she did not dye her hair. The victim had a ruddy complexion, indicating she spent a lot of time outdoors. She was between 5’4″ and 5’6″ and weighed 125 – 130 pounds. Several scars were also found on the body, including a vertical scar under the chin, on one wrist, the arms and the ankle. Her bra size was 32D.

She wore Wrangler jeans, a patterned brown and orange turtleneck pullover sweater, a white bra, as well as a deerskin poncho that appeared to have been handmade with purple lining. She wore no shoes or socks.

Investigation

The body was autopsied on the afternoon that it was discovered. The coroner officially ruled her death as being the result of strangulation. Early efforts to identify the Buckskin Girl involved the creation of a sketch of the face that would be published in local newspapers and television networks on April 28, 1981. About two-hundred leads were followed as a result of media attention, yet none resulted in any solution. She was eventually buried, but her clothing remains in storage at the local police department.

Because of the short time the victim had been deceased, it was possible to obtain her fingerprints. Her dental information and DNA were also taken. Although these three elements are considered vital for identifying a body, they have not led to her identity. Approximately 165 missing women and girls were ruled out as possible identities of the victim, including Tina Kemp, Pamela Harvey Rousseau and Karen Zendrosky. Some believed that she had been a runaway teenager or a transient wanderer, although her excellent personal hygiene suggested she had had access to hygiene products not too long before her death. Since her body was located near a town road instead of a highway, the probability of her being a “wanderer” for a significant amount of time was initially thought to be negligible.

In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released a forensic facial reconstruction of the victim and added her case to their website, depicting her with and without her braided hairstyle. Later that year, the Miami County Police Department approved forensic palynology tests on the victim’s clothing, which suggested she had spent time in the Northeastern part of the United States as well as in the Western part of the country or northern Mexico. Soot particles were also found on some of her clothing, which suggested she had been in a populous region, most likely near vehicles.

Reconstructions of the Buckskin Girl, also illustrating the jacket and sweater the victim wore.
Reconstructions of the Buckskin Girl, also illustrating the jacket and sweater the victim wore.

– Serial killer theory

Some investigators speculate that the Buckskin Girl was the first of many victims killed by an unidentified serial killer who perpetrated his murders in the 1980s and 1990s, continuing until 2004, in Ohio. Such a serial killer was suspected to have killed approximately seven to ten other women, presumed prostitutes and exotic dancers in Ohio. In 1991, a press conference preceded the creation of a task force which attempted to connect various murders in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois. These cases were originally connected by a reporter who discovered similarities between unsolved murders in the area.

On an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, the case was briefly detailed along with several other cases connected to the unidentified serial killer. The program connected the case the murders of Shirley Dean Taylor, Anna Marie Patterson, Hebron Jane Doe and other murder cases. All of the victims had been beaten or strangled and had some clothing or jewelry missing. The Buckskin Girl wore no jewelry, had had her footwear removed, and died in a similar manner to that of the other victims.

There are, however, several indications disputing this theory. The Buckskin Girl was missing shoes when she was found, but there was no indication that she had participated in any sexual activity prior to death. Furthermore, she was fairly well-groomed, unlike many of the other victims. Some, like the Hebron Jane Doe had participated in sexual activity before their deaths, a factor which indicated that they were sex workers. Also diverging from the theory, Patterson had had her body wrapped in a sleeping bag and was likely stored in a refrigerated area for “nearly a month” before it was located on the side of a highway.

It is thought that the women who may have been victims of the serial killer could have met with a man at a truck stop while working as prostitutes. In the case of Anna Marie Patterson, there was a suspect, identified over a CB radio as “Dr. No”, believed to be between the ages of 25 and 40. Patterson’s husband, who was involved with her work as a sex worker, stated that she was uncomfortable accepting the man’s requests, as other local prostitutes, some speaking over the radio, had expressed that they were suspicious of the man and did not wish to meet with him. Police has suspected that this person may have been her killer, and that he may also have been involved in the death of the Buckskin Girl.

Earlier, it was presumed that she had been a victim of a different span of killings, known as the Redhead murders, but this theory has been ruled out. Early speculation also made a connection to the murder of a 27-year-old woman in February 1981, yet police never made an official link between these two murders.

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