On February 16, 1982 the badly decomposed headless and nude body of a small, young female thought to be white/Caucasian was found on a dirt road in the desert outside Plainview, Hale County, Texas. The woman, found with her hands tied behind her back, was in her late teens to early twenties. Several days later, a human skull was found in the area and, having thought to be that of the woman, was buried with her in a Plainview cemetery. Subsequently, following exhumation of the body in 2015, the original determination by Pathologist Erdmann of Childress that the skull belonged to the woman was discredited. In December 2019 DNA Doe Project obtained DNA results that suggested the woman was predominantly African American.
Date Found February 16, 1982
Race Black / African American
Age Late teens, early twenties
Location near Plainview, TX
Agency of Jurisdiction
Texas Rangers Company C
Ranger Dean Fant
Image Credit: Background photo by Bonnie Sinclair | Our Wander-Filled Life; Silhouette image courtesy of Clipart Library; Image compiled by Jack Friess, DNA Doe Project.
Remains found outside Plainview in 1982 identified
Texas authorities announce the identification of Debra Mackey
Plainview, TX- Debra Mackey’s case had remained unsolved for over four decades, leaving investigators and the community searching for answers. In 1982, authorities initially misidentified Debra’s race as Caucasian, which led to significant challenges in identifying her accurately.
Known as Plainview Jane Doe 1982, the remains discovered along a dirt road were badly decomposed and missing her skull, but it was clear to authorities that she was the victim of foul play. A skull found at another location was believed to belong to Jane Doe’s remains, and was even buried with her in 1982. After exhuming the remains in 2015, authorities determined the skull was actually from another person. They reached out to the DNA Doe Project in 2018 to try using DNA to learn her identity. The challenging biological sample spent nearly a year in the labs before a workable DNA profile was developed and research into Jane Doe’s family tree could begin.
The DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit organization specializing in the identification of unidentified persons using genetic genealogy, played a pivotal role in resolving this case, but not in the usual way. One of the first tasks for the team was to evaluate the possible race and ethnicity of the DNA profile, and they quickly concluded that this Jane Doe was in fact African-American and not Caucasian as investigators originally thought. With this new information, a search of the NamUS database turned up Debra Mackey’s missing persons record, and this lead was provided to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Confirmation of the identification was announced this month.
“One of the major confounding factors in this case that likely prevented her from being identified all of these years was the fact that Plainview Jane Doe was believed to be white. However, DNA never lies,” said team leader Kevin Lord. “I’m so glad that we were able to help provide answers to Debra Mackey’s family and hope that Debra’s killer will now be brought to justice.”
The DNA Doe Project is grateful to the groups and individuals who helped resolve this case: the Texas Department of Public Safety, who entrusted the case to the DNA Doe Project; DNA Solutions for extraction of DNA; HudsonAlpha Discovery for sequencing; Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics; GEDmatch Pro and FTDNA for providing their databases; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who work tirelessly to bring all our Jane and John Does home.
Last Updated: June 13, 2023