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Experts say Oregon woman killed in 1948 may have been buried with someone else's head
BY ANDREW WALTERS SVN REPORTER firstname.lastname@example.org
OREGON - The mysterious killing of Mary Jane Reed took another unusual turn Wednesday.
Mike Arians, a former mayor of Oregon, called a news conference in which he announced the skull buried with Reed in 1948 may not be hers.
The 17-year-old Oregon girl and her companion, Stanley Skridla, were shot to death on June 25, 1948. Their bodies were found along separate country roads near Oregon, and their killings have not been solved.
Arians and Reed's brother, Warren Reed, of Rock Falls, have spent years trying to solve the whodunit.
In 2005, they won a court order allowing them to exhume her remains for an autopsy to determine if any clues could be found. Her body was re-interred that day, minus the skull, some vertebrae and a femur that were examined by the State Police Crime Lab before being returned to Warren Reed. They revealed no new clues, then-Sheriff Mel Messer said.
Despite the lack of evidence turned up by the exhumation, an Ogle County Sheriff's Department investigation, run by Capt. Rich Wilkinson, was said to have developed some new leads. According to Messer, two people, now dead, were identified as persons of interest. A judge ruled that their names not be released.
Monday, Arians received a report from an independent team of forensic anthropologists who examined those part. It stated there is doubt that the skull and vertebra are from the same person.
Arians demonstrated how the second vertebra does not seem to match up. The first vertebra fits snugly into the cranium, but the second vertebra does not fit into the first.
"We have never before encountered such a non-articulation in skeletal vertebra assembly," Linda Klepinger, the forensic anthropologist and University of Illinois professor who studied the remains stated in her report.
"There is no obvious explanation for this impossible articulation other than that (the first vertebra) and the (second vertebra) do not belong to the same individual," she stated.
The first vertebra and the skull are from one woman, while the second through seventh vertebra are from another woman of a similar age, she concluded.
Arians believes the skull is likely too small to be Mary Jane's. He came to that conclusion by examining old photographs and comparing them with measurements taken from the exhumed skull.
"I felt possibly it was not her skull. Heights and widths and the eyes did not match," Arians said.
Ogle County Sheriff Greg Beitel is not so sure.
"I don't know what happened in 1948, and I don't know what happened between 1948 and 2005," Beitel said. "We conducted as thorough an investigation as we could (in 2005)."
Beitel also questioned the validity of the findings.
"I would imagine we could go out and find another anthropologist that would reach different conclusions," he said.
He did confirm that when the corpse was exhumed in 2005, the casket was intact, so any if there was any chicanery, it likely would have taken place before her burial.
Arians said his next step will be to contact the FBI to see if they will consider conducting an investigation.
"I would welcome an independent investigation," Beitel said.
Although he refused to give names, Arians said he believes there are at least three people still living who could provide information about what exactly happened to Mary Jane and Skridla - a person who assisted the 1948 autopsy, the mortician and a person who was near the scene of her murder when it happened.
Other oddities have turned up, Arians and reed said. The initial police report indicates that Mary Jane was shot in the back of the head with a 32-caliber bullet, yet the skull Reed appears to have been shot through the left nostril with the bullet exiting through the back of the head.
The only existing photographs of the crime scene show her body obscured by underbrush; her head is not visible and it is impossible to tell whether it was still attached to the body.
The only family member to see her body after she was murdered was Reed's sister-in-law, Lucille Janssen, who identified the body simply by being shown a hand with Mary Jane's mother's wedding ring on it, Reed said. The rest of the body was covered at the time.
"That is the only thing they showed her. We don't know why," said Reed, who now wears that ring, recovered when the body was exhumed.
He said he remains committed to learning everything he can about his sister's murder. Solving the mystery was a deathbed request his mother made many years ago.
"Mother said do me a favor and find out who killed your sister. I said I would try," Reed said.
Reach Andrew Walters at (815) 625-3600 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 522.
Reach Andrew Walters at (815) 284-2222 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 522.