Wapello County Sheriff’s Office Seeks Answers in 46-Year-Old Case

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The unknown remains that were found by law enforcement in Missouri 46 years ago have been identified as a girl from Ottumwa.

Now the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office is looking for answers regarding the death of 15-year-old Helen Renee Grooms of Ottumwa who was reported missing in 1977.

In March 1978, the body of a female was found in the Mississippi River near Elsberry, Missouri by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. An autopsy was performed and officials believed the deceased to be a white female between 30-40 years old. The cause of death was determined to be drowning. No signs of trauma were discovered and the manner of death was unknown. Authorities believed Doe was found four months after her death based on decomposition.

Dubbed “Lincoln County Jane Doe,” the identity of the deceased remained a mystery for nearly five decades. Her body was buried in Lincoln County.

In October 2023, Doe’s remains were exhumed and Southeast Missouri University Anthropology Professor Jennifer Bengston and undergraduate students conducted various tests. Dental records determined Doe was likely a teenager at the time of her death. A DNA sample was obtained and a genealogical profile was built.

Missouri officials reached out to the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office. Detective Aaron McConnell talked about the call he received from Missouri about the case.

“The Lincoln County Coroner’s Office made contact with us [Wapello County Sheriff’s Office], gave us a brief synopsis of what they had done already. they advised that they had a possible DNA match to a possible brother.” Detective Aaron McConnell, Wapello County Sheriff’s Office

McConnell says he collected a familial DNA reference sample that matched Doe’s DNA and allowed authorities to identify Grooms. Her remains were returned to her family. McConnell described meeting Grooms’ brother.

“You can just imagine, right? A brother not knowing where your sister was for 46-47 years…every family deserves to know what happened to their loved ones that went missing no matter how long ago it was.” Detective Aaron McConnell

According to the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa has approximately 585 cold cases. McConnell says the Grooms investigation is getting started and he’s asking for the public’s help.

“Anybody that knew Helen back in 1977, 1978, or the family is encouraged to call us even if you think it’s nothing. It’d still be nice to put little pieces of the puzzle together.” Detective Aaron McConnell

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