Monday, July 15, 2024

A girl known as “Baby Jane Doe,” who was found dead and encased in concrete in southeast Georgia in 1988, has been identified, the authorities announced on Monday. Her mother and her mother’s former boyfriend have been charged with murder.

The girl, Kenyatta “KeKe” Odom, 5, of Albany, Ga., was identified after a woman called the police with a tip in January of this year, Jason Seacrist, special agent in charge at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said at a news conference on Monday.

Kenyatta’s remains were found on Dec. 21, 1988, at a dump site in Millwood, Ga., Mr. Seacrist said. Her blanket-wrapped body had been in a duffel bag inside of a trunk that was encased in concrete and hidden in an old TV cabinet, he said.

At the time, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner labeled it a homicide but could not determine the cause of death.

Kenyatta’s mother, Evelyn Odom, 56, also known as Zmecca Luciana, and her mother’s former live-in boyfriend, Ulyster Sanders, 61, were arrested “without incident” on Nov. 9, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, after a Dougherty County grand jury indicted them on five counts each including felony murder.

They have also been charged with cruelty to children in the first degree, aggravated battery, concealing the death of another person and conspiracy to conceal the death of another person.

The indictment said that the two had submerged parts of Kenyatta’s body in hot water, leading to her death, First Coast News, a local news station, reported.

The authorities did not announce a motive in the case.

The investigation into Kenyatta’s identity and death has been ongoing for more than three decades, with hundreds of tips flowing to investigators in that time. Attempts by the authorities to identify “Baby Jane Doe” included forensic testing, speaking to local and national media to bring attention to the case and comparing her to missing children in Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and other states.

In January, a tipster had called after investigators once again asked the public for help, describing “Baby Jane Doe” as having pierced ears and saying she was found in Millwood, Ga., wearing thermal bottoms and a white pullover sweater with a pink pony emblem. A reward of $5,000 was offered for information that led to identifying the child.

A burst of news coverage followed, reaching the tipster, who Mr. Seacrist said “had heard the story of Baby Jane Doe and she believed she may know who this little girl may be.”

Mr. Seacrist declined to provide information on the caller’s identity.

“She knew that there had been a child that had gone missing and that her mother had said that the child had gone to live with her father,” he continued. “This person never really believed that story.”

Thanks to technological advancements, such as DNA analysis, investigators had been inching forward in the case when the tipster called, he said.

There had always been a suspicion that “Baby Jane Doe” was tied to the city of Albany, which is about 94 miles west of Millwood, because a copy of the Albany Herald newspaper was found near her remains. In 2022, investigators had used DNA results and genealogy research to connect the child to people there.

The tip from January led investigators to a specific section of a family tree, Mr. Seacrist said, giving them the “final break” in the case.

In June, investigators confirmed that Baby Jane Doe was Kenyatta and that she had died in Albany in 1988, though they did not name her publicly until Monday, when they announced her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had been charged in her death.

Both Ms. Odom and Mr. Sanders were still in custody as of Tuesday, according to jail records. It was not clear on Tuesday morning if they had legal representation.

Mr. Seacrist said that the authorities were trying to locate Kenyatta’s father.

“The identity of her father has been a little bit of a secret over the years,” he said, “but we are continuing to use our investigative tools to try to identify him.”

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