COLD CASE: Teen found 23 years ago still unidentified

The TBI is working to identify a teenager, found 23 years ago along an East Tennessee interstate.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is working to identify a teenager found 23 years ago along an East Tennessee interstate. Her body was naked and badly decomposed.

"This is one of those things, if you are an agent or an investigator in law enforcement, and you have a case that you have never been able to close, that's something you live with your entire life," TBI spokesperson Kristin Helm said. "You just don't forget about that person."

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For some TBI investigators, that person was a teenaged girl found on April 14, 1985 in Greene County.

A 15-year-old fishing near exit 44 on I-81 smelled something dead, then discovered the body.

"It's estimated she had been out in the elements in the springtime for three to six weeks," Helm said. "When you have a body that's that decomposed, it's difficult to identify that person."

An autopsy revealed the badly beaten girl was 15 to 17 years old, weighed about 140 lbs, and stood 5'5.

She had curly light brown to dark blonde hair and had recently been pregnant but never gave birth.

Aside from her silvery pink nail polish, the victim's body lay naked with no identifying marks.

"The first thing you have to do to solve a homicide is to know who your victim is," Helm said. "If you can identify the victim, you have a greater chance of identifying your suspect. That's what we are really trying to do in this case."

In 2005, Knoxville forensic artist Joanna Hughes used clay to reconstruct the victim's face. It's a process that took about 40 hours over several weeks.

Hughes slowly built her nose, her lips, and her eyes from the victim's bone structure.

"I often tell people I am not in it to catch bad guys, because that's not my job," Hughes said. "My job is to identify the person and get them back to their families."

The Greene County case is one of about a handful in the state involving unidentified children currently being revisited by the TBI.

They hope with new investigative tools, they will be able to close the cases for good.

"Nobody deserves to die like this. Nobody deserves not to be laid to rest either," Helm said.

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At the time, there were several women found dead along the nation's busy highways. The crimes were dubbed the red-headed murders. They were thought to be the work of a truck driver.

Investigators looked into the possibility that the young girl was one of them, but it was never confirmed.

"We have fingerprints. We have dental records. We have her DNA," Helm said. "We did a skull reconstruction, but unless there is someone out there who can see her and say 'I know that girl,' we may never know who she is."

It is a cold case now almost 25 years old, finally getting a face. The case needs to be solved for her sake.

"It just takes that one key person or key piece of evidence that comes into us that unlocks this mystery forever," says Helm.

If you have any information on this cold case, you are asked to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.

If you have a crime, you'd like us to look into email us at coldcase@wbir.com.