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Rev. John Heyward Jr.

The Rev. John Heyward Jr. officiates during a funeral for an unknown girl on Dec. 2, 1983, as funeral director Jesse Woodson stands by at Washington Park Cemetery in Berkeley. Looking on are Detective Sgt. Herb Riley, left, and medical examiner Baxter Leisure. An unidentified man stands in the background at far left. Photo courtesy of Ed Sedej, St. Louis Globe Democrat

Originally published Dec. 5, 1983

They buried little Jane Doe on Friday.

There weren't very many people there, but what the heck. It was a dreary day, and the ground was soggy at Washington Park Cemetery. The mud stuck to the shoes of the reporters and photographers who were there to chronicle what might be the last chapter in the story of little Jane Doe. Capt. Leroy Adkins was there, too. He and Sgt. Herb Riley represented the police department. A fellow from the medical examiner's office also attended. So did a representative from the Congress on Racial Equality.

The Rev. John W. Heywood presided at the graveside service. It's difficult to say appropriate things about somebody like little Jane Doe — after all, nobody knows who she was — but Heywood did a real good job.

After the ceremony, a reporter asked Riley how many man-hours had been spent on the case. Riley said he didn't know.

The little girl's body was found in February. Two men, scavenging for pipes, went into the basement of an abandoned apartment building at 5635 Clemens Avenue. It was cold in the basement, too cold even for rats. The men found the girl's body under some debris. Her hands had been bound behind her back. She was naked from the waist down. She was clad only in a yellow V-neck sweater, and the label had been torn off the sweater.

She had been sexually molested. And her head had been cut off.

The homicide detectives, who are, of course, hardened to this kind of thing, figured they'd break the case as soon as they identified the little girl.

They never did.

Riley, Wayne Bender and Joe Burgoon got the assignment. That was the team that had just cracked the Decker case, with help from John Roussin and Leo Devere. So it was clear that Adkins wanted the little Jane Doe case solved in a hurry.

But nothing went right. One of the first things the detectives did was to visit all grammar schools in the area. They thought they'd check on all the little girls who were suddenly not in school.

The school records weren't accurate. School systems get money for each child enrolled, and administrators are apparently more interested in getting money than in keeping accurate records. It turned out to be impossible to find out much from the records. Kids who were no longer in school were still being kept on the books.

But the most puzzling aspect of the case was the fact that no child resembling little Jane Doe was ever reported missing.

Adkins took the whole thing personally. He's the first black officer to head the homicide division. He's a proud man, and he knows that some people in the black community believe that the police department is most concerned with cases involving white victims. He wanted to prove those critics wrong.

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He also knows that a lot of black citizens choose not to cooperate with the police. So he went out into the community and pleaded for help. I remember a community meeting at the Bethesda Temple on Delmar Avenue.

"Somebody out there knows something," he said. "Talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends. Somewhere out there is a mother without a little girl, a brother without a sister, a neighbor without a little girl running up and down the street."

It was an eloquent speech, but the whole thing reminded me of a Billy Graham crusade. That is, the people who attend already believe.

Adkins knew that, too, but he kept going to community meetings. He also kept a large chart on the wall in his office. It listed things that had been done, and things that must be done. Dozens of index cards with names of people who had been questioned were tacked on to the chart.

I was in the captain's office a couple of weeks ago. The chart was off the wall. The talk among the detectives had to do with more recent murders.

And little Jane Doe was buried on Friday.