JENKINS COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – On Valentines Day 1988, a man discovered a woman’s body inside of a dumpster near Millen, Georgia. Now, after more than 30 years, a question still asked by people throughout Jenkins County is what happened.
“It was a big topic that day at work,” shared Jenkins County Sheriff Robert Oglesby.
Millen, Georgia, the small town serving as the county seat for Jenkins County, is home to more than 2,700 people. Incorporated in 1881, the primarily agricultural area, is home to the Ogeechee River and the birthplace of former Georgia governor Nathan Deal.
The year was 1988. Robert Oglesby, a husband and father who would later be elected county sheriff, was working at a mobile home plant when the most shocking news hit town.
“It’s just like getting it first hand while you were out there working. It being Valentines Day, you had a dead body that was found in a dumpster and everybody trying to order their roses and chocolate,” he recalled.
Although a body in a dumpster rocked the county that Sunday, as Oglesby describes, many people drew an immediate conclusion.
He explained, “This town here has always been a small community. Close knit. Everybody knew everybody. The first thought you think is ain’t nobody around here do that.”
News quickly hit the papers. The Statesboro Herald and the local weekly, The Millen News. Based on those reports, Cold Case Project learned what happened. One headline read, Body in suitcase found in dumpster. It details how a decomposed body was inside of a suitcase discovered by a man searching for aluminum cans in a trash dumpster near Kaiser and Old Perkins Roads, not far from Millen.
We asked, “Tell me what street this is.
“This is Perkins Road. Old Perkins Road,” Oglesby replied.
“Where was Kaiser Road?”
He said, “Kaiser Road was a dirt road that cut from right through yonder.”
Sheriff Oglesby took us to the location where that dumpster once existed. Back in ’88, it was dirt road. Now, it’s the Millen Bypass that connects to Highway 25.
People would come up the paved road, Old Perkins, and turn onto a dirt road to dump their trash?
“And the dumpster was sitting right on the corner of that corner, yes ma’am,” we confirmed.
Because the entire community got rid of their waste at that corner, it was next to impossible to figure out who was responsible back then. But we scanned through those newspaper articles to find someone else who was around then. The Jenkins County Sheriff back then, Bobby Womack, is deceased. But we found the man who helped retrieve the Jane Doe from the dumpster that day. He’s the director of Crowe Fields Funeral Home in Millen.
“I had been to Statesboro with my family and we were on the way back and two GBI cars came by us. I was already speeding myself,” said Ralph Crowe, Funeral Director of Crowe Fields Funeral Home.
Crowe’s phone rang and he heard these words from Sheriff Womack.
“Hey, we got a DOA out here at the dumpster at Perkins Road,” Crowe recalled.
The person was stuffed inside of a suitcase. Later determined to be a woman of Asian descent. Crowe remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It was a canvas suitcase,” he described. “It was brown and it was shaped like the modern backpacks that we have now with two handles. And it zippered over the top. We took a broom handle and put it through the handles of the suitcase and got her out of the dumpster and brought her here.”
The Doe was placed in the suitcase naked, and the decomposition was advanced making the odor difficult to work with. Crowe said the GBI later ruled the woman actually died from either asphxiation or strangulation. Just like Sheriff Oglesby told us, Crowe said that the crime more than likely happened somewhere else, mainly because there were no families of Asian descent living Jenkins County in the 80s. But he shared his own theory about what might have happened.
“They had just started opening Asian spas in Augusta and in Savannah. You’d see the advertisements in the Augusta paper and what not. It hadn’t been too long before that they had found a shipping container at the docks full of Asian people that they took into custody,” Crowe said.
“So, you think that she was transported here after working somewhere else?”
Crowe replied, “Or either they were taking her to put her to work somewhere that she didn’t want to go.”
We stopped by The Millen News to check out articles about the Jenkins County Jane Doe still on shelves from 1988.
Between the pages we found an article from four days after the crime detailing information following an autopsy on the Doe. It states the dumpster had been emptied be the county at 11 a.m. that Friday. And it is believed the body was placed there Friday afternoon, but the death occurred several days before. The article further described Jane Doe –confirming she was, in fact, an Asian woman, five feet tall and around 140 pounds. By March, another article showing a composite drawing of the victim was released to the public. The GBI also issued a call for help identifying the body, sharing details such as her shoulder length hair, pierced ears and crowded front upper teeth. And police were also not able to identify her through missing persons reports.
Around four years into the investigation, Oglesby started a part-time job working weekends at the Sheriff’s Office. But he said conversation had already died down about the woman’s body found in the dumpster. No real tips came into the office. And that meant investigators were also no closer to finding the killer.
“This entire time you haven’t had anyone come to this office saying my loved one is missing, have you heard anything?” We asked the sheriff.
“And does that shock you that there has not been anyone looking for this person?”
“It does, which kind of makes me go along with the theory of everybody else. She wasn’t from this area,” Oglesby said.
The GBI is the investigating agency for the Jenkins County Jane Doe. And we know from media reports back then that the entire dumpster was relocated from its original spot to an area near the jail.
Cold Case Project reached back out to the GBI and learned the agency “can’t say anything specific about the case, which is still an open case even though it’s cold. But, one agent told us that they are exploring DNA. And, generally speaking, GBI reports cases that are old are continuously reviewed and old DNA is run through newer technology.
Life moved on in the Millen area. By 2009, Robert Oglesby was elected county sheriff. And since being in office, he’s only had two homicides to date. While he said most of his calls are from students and professors wanting to explore cold cases versus tips, he’s still hopeful that one day some family will have closure.
So whatever happened to the Jenkins County Jane Doe? Crowe told us that took place not long after she was found.
“The Crime Lab had their own transport, so they picked her up from here. And then they brought the remains back here and as a courtesy, there was nothing else to be done, we cremated her,” Crowe said.
And ’til this day, the 1988 Jane Doe remains in Jenkins County.
Crowe added, “We still have her on the shelf back here thinking one day that somebody kin to her will come because GBI has DNA from the autopsy.”
“It would be nice if these things could get solved and taken care of just for a little bit of peace,” the sheriff said.
Anyone with any information about the Jenkins County Jane Doe should contact the GBI at 912-871-1121. Anonymous tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477). Also, online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take a look back at all of the cases we covered during this first year. Are their any updates or new information? We look into that as we work to find what family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.
Photojournalist: Regynal Mckie