A group of genetic genealogy enthusiasts is trying to find the identity of a woman who was found dead in a Portland park in 2015.
On May 22, 2015, someone passing by spotted the woman’s body in the water along the Eastern Promenade Trail.
“She was very well dressed,” said Lindsey Chasteen, an administrator in the Maine medical examiner’s office. “She had on her jewelry, which was nice jewelry. She has fairly extensive and expensive dental work.”
The woman was between 30 and 50 years old with tattooed eyebrows and a scar, possibly from a cesarean section. Her death appeared to be a suicide.
“What we know about her at this point is not very much,” Chasteen said. “Which is unfortunate.”
Chasteen said the woman’s DNA was run through an FBI database for missing people. Her fingerprints were run through another FBI database in 2015, 2017 and 2021 because it is constantly updating.
“We don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to make a match. So we’ve run them several times and no match,” Chasteen said.
There could be a number of reasons why people can go unidentified, even today. Sometimes people don’t have any identification, are estranged from their families, or their family believes they are OK somewhere.
“If no one’s reporting them missing because everything’s fine, no one is going to know who this is,” Chasteen said.
In 2018, the DNA Doe Project was brought in to help with this case. The nonprofit organization has solved dozens of John and Jane Doe cases nationwide. Maine investigators previously worked with the group to identify a man in Oakland.
Thousands of miles away in Seattle, Elias Chan has been working on the case. Chan became interested in this field after taking a DNA test kit and going through their family tree. Chan has a background in systems administration, data and technology, making them well suited for this work.
They uploaded the woman’s DNA data to a website that could help them find her relatives using results from genetic test kits.
They now believe the unidentified woman has extended family in the Northeast, likely New York, and she might have traveled to Maine.
“From the first couple of months in, we started to get a pretty good indication that this person may have been a recent immigrant from Korea,” Chan said.
They have found a distant cousin, who has been contacted about the case. However, there has been a delay in the response, which is not unusual. Plus, it may take several matches from similarly distant relatives or closer to move the case forward.
“Due to the lack of Korean testers, there aren’t very many matches that are available,” Chan said.
“I’m hopeful that we can make this identification,” Chasteen of the Maine medical examiner’s office said. “We can get her reunited with her family.”
Anyone who recognizes the woman can contact the Portland Police Department.