More than 20 years ago, Indiana police found the partial remains of a woman -- who was shot and then set ablaze under some car tires -- along the bank of a creek in Newton County.
The woman, who might be from the Kankakee County region, was found in 1988 with the remains of Selassie "Tony" Sherrod Jr., then 30, of rural St. Anne. But her skeletal remains — and the only possessions connected to her — then sat for years in black, plastic trash bags.
"I just want to find out who this girl is and get her home," Newton County Coroner Scott McCord said Tuesday. "Somebody has to recognize her."
For the first time, McCord is releasing a forensic artist's sketch of the woman to Illinois media, beginning with The Daily Journal, in hopes someone will recognize her and contact McCord or Indiana State Police investigators.
"This is our first big push into Illinois, so maybe I will get some calls," McCord said. "Even if you have an inkling, call me."
It seemed the case had gone cold for investigators. But a safety pin, possibly from a Morocco swimming pool; an old police report case number; a pair of Jordache jeans; and an expensive dental crown remained with the unidentified woman.
The woman and Sherrod were found Aug. 5, 1988. Investigators believe they died a month earlier, sometime after Sherrod left a Fourth of July family reunion party. Both were shot, McCord said, then covered with tires and set on fire near County 600W and 350S roads. They were dumped along Beaver Creek in the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area in Morocco.
McCord took the job as Newton County coroner three years ago and inherited the trash bags containing "Charlene," the name he gave the unidentified woman.
He was determined to find out who she was and not just let her remains languish. Painstakingly gluing the woman's skull back together, McCord said he asked his own dentist for help. There was a little plastic bag with something McCord initially thought was part of a tooth but which his dentist quickly pointed out was a very rare, expensive dental crown. The machine used to make that type of crown in the 1980s cost about $120,000, McCord said.
Investigators initially said "she was just a prostitute," he explained. But to receive that kind of crown back then was too pricey an endeavor.
He then sent the woman's skull to Betsy Cooper, whom he said is one of 46 certified and licensed forensic artists in the country. From her base in Texas, she created the sketch that McCord hopes will lead to her identity.
"We're thinking whoever did this knew them," McCord said. "These people are connected to very, very bad people. You know somebody in the St. Anne-Hopkins Park area knows something."
It wasn't a murder-suicide, he said. Sherrod's Chevrolet Astro van was found several days later in Indiana, also burned.
And McCord said he doesn't believe their deaths were linked to drugs or a drug deal gone bad. A DNA sample that was tested turned out to be low-quality, McCord said, further stymieing efforts to identify her.
McCord said he hopes if someone recognizes the woman that it might help lead him to her family. And one of the keys to tracking down their killer is to first identify this woman, McCord said.
"I have my suspicion who did it, but proving it is another story," McCord said, declining to elaborate.
Call with tips
Anyone with information may contact Newton County Coroner Scott McCord at 219-285-2515 or email him at email@example.com. Kankakee County sheriff's Detective Todd Huntley said anyone with information -- who would like to remain anonymous -- may contact Kankakee Area Crime Stoppers at 815-932-7463. Huntley said tips may result in rewards of up to $1,000.