Mystery Allegheny women to be buried next week

Chuck Biedka
| Friday, June 5, 2009

Three women will be laid to rest next week even though their names remain unknown.

Through work by staff at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office and a funeral company, the women will be buried near Canonsburg after religious services Wednesday.

The interment will set aside questions that have stumped police and medical examiner's investigators for years.

• One white woman was found floating in the Allegheny River near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club in O'Hara almost six years ago.

The medical examiner's office said she was in her 30s to 40s when she died from a drug overdose -- probably heroin.

In life she was about 5-foot 3-inches tall and probably weighed slightly less than 100 pounds.

• Another Jane Doe was found by contractors in an unoccupied house along North Avenue in Wilkinsburg in 1999. The black woman was 18 to 35 when she was strangled.

• A cause of death hasn't been determined for the third woman, also white and thought to be 20 to 40, who was found in a former railroad tunnel near the Homestead Waterfront in 2000.

"We have tried everything to find out who they are," said Ed Strimlan, chief of forensic investigations in the the medical examiner's office.

After police and others investigated, the names and circumstances are added to national crime and victim databases.

Police and coroner investigators continue to ask questions.

The remains have been kept in the medical examiner's facility downtown. After a number of years, the medical examiner's office usually cremates unidentified remains.

"But, in this case, we will be able to bury then at no cost to the county," Strimlan said.

Beinhauer Family Funeral Homes is arranging for religious services and burial near Canonsburg, he said.

"We want them to have a Christian burial," Beinhauer operations director Scott Beinhauer said Tuesday.

"We're doing this as a way to give back to the community."

Caskets will be donated by suppliers and the St. Vincent dePaul Society. Wilbert of Pittsburgh Inc., a supplier of burial vaults, is making a substantial donation as is the Beinhauer Foundation, he said.

The foundation has made previous donations in similar cases.

A nondenominational Christian service will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday by a Protestant minister, Beinhauer said.

Although the bodies will be buried, officials haven't given up trying to identify the women and determine the circumstances of their deaths.

One was the victim of homicide. Circumstances are questionable for the other two Jane Does.

"We have DNA from them and we have placed their information and dental records on the JaneDoe Network and NamUS databases," Strimlan said.

Found in the Allegheny

The female found in the river near the Fox Chapel Yacht Club surprised construction crews on a bright day Oct. 24, 2003.

According to Strimlan and police reports, the night before a worker thought he saw some garbage floating in the water. But the next morning the item floated closer to shore. It was a body.

The badly decomposed body had a plastic shopping bag tied over its head. The body was wrapped inside a blue blanket bound with silver duct tape.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the body could have traveled through dams or locks, perhaps from as far as New York.

Tests revealed she had heroin residue and a sedative in her system.

There was no sign of foul play.

The woman had a surgical scar on her abdomen from gall bladder removal as well as a scar behind an ear.

She was wearing Season Ticket-brand blue jeans with an elastic waist band -- as was sold in Louisiana and Florida -- a long sleeve shirt sold in the May Department Store and white ladies panties, Strimlan said.

She wore black, size 6 Basic Editions slip-on shoes sold at K-Mart.

She had medium-length brown or blonde hair.

Additional Information:

How to help

Missing persons databases

If anyone has information about the three unidentified women, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's staff asks that the office be contacted at 412-350-4800.

To learn more about the unidentified women, visit here or here . Fill in the race, sex and other information such as state.

To learn about the regional funeral company that is making the free burial possible, click here .

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