On July 31, 1997 a maintenance worker picking up trash in a roadside park in Ada, Michigan found human remains in a wooded area behind some outbuildings. The body, upon examination by an anthropology team from Western Michigan University, was determined to be that of a Black/African American female between 20 to 30 years old and 5’ 3” to 5’ 7”. Authorities found only a dark blue leg warmer near the remains. Her teeth showed a lack of dental care, and she likely died sometime between March and August of 1996. She remains unidentified despite the creation of a reconstruction clay model by a Michigan State police forensic artist in 2009.
NamUs ID: UP2681
Date Body Found: July 31, 1997
Race: Black / African American
Estimated Age: 20-30
Estimated PMI: Years
Location: Ada, MI
Agency of Jurisdiction
Kent County Sheriff’s Office
Dustin Cook, Officer
Link to More Information
On January 5, 2022 the DNA Doe Project (DDP), collaborating with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) to identify skeletonized remains discovered by a maintenance worker in 1997 at a roadside park in Ada, Michigan, announced that the remains were those of Stephanie Renee Judson. DDP used investigative genetic genealogy to identify the woman who had only been known as Ada Bones Jane Doe 1997 for 25 years.
Stephanie Judson, born in 1966 in Benton Harbor, had been living in Grand Rapids since 1980. Her death was ruled a homicide and it is believed she died more than a year before her remains were discovered. She was in her early 30’s at the time of her death.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office contacted DDP in 2020 to attempt to create a DNA profile from Judson’s bones. Initial lab work failed to produce a workable DNA sample, but in April, 2021 samples were combined and enriched at HudsonAlpha Discovery Labs, and a successful DNA profile was obtained. After uploading this profile to GEDmatch, it took DNA Doe Project’s volunteer genealogists only a week to come up with a likely candidate. The identity of the Jane Doe was confirmed with a buccal swab from a family member.
Team leader Eric Hendershott said, “We were fortunate in this case we had some decent matches. Stephanie’s top match ended up being a second cousin.”
Once the top match was identified, the team built family trees to make their way to the right branch of the family. Hendershott explained, “The team pretty quickly narrowed things down to a particular county in Mississippi. From there, we were able to tie together some descendants of common ancestors who relocated to Benton Harbor, MI. We then were able to identify Stephanie as a potential candidate.”
DNA Doe Project wishes to acknowledge the contributions of those groups and individuals who helped solve this case: Detective Dustin Cook; Astrea Labs for DNA extraction from bone; HudsonAlpha Discovery Labs for enrichment and whole genome sequencing; Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics; GEDmatch for providing their database; our generous donors; and our extraordinary team of DDP investigative genetic genealogists.
WZZM 13ABC article has more information about the search for the identity of Ada Bones Jane Doe 1997.
Image Credit: Trooper Sarah Krebs-MSP
Last Updated: January 7, 2022