Marcia King was found strangled and beaten to death by the side of the road in Troy, Ohio in April 1981. She went unidentified for 37 years, known only as "Buck Skin Girl," until a DNA breakthrough on April 9, 2018. (Photo: Courtesy of the Miami County Sheriff's Office)

Detectives pulled out all the stops, over the years. Detailed fingerprint database matching, dental history comparison, a face reconstruction, trace pollen analysis and stable isotope forensics on hair follicles all failed to identify the body for close to four decades.

The name of the young woman known only as the “Buck Skin Girl,” found strangled and beaten to death by the side of a road in Troy, Ohio in April 1981, remained unknown for 37 years. She was buried with a “Jane Doe” tombstone, and authorities tried to find her family based mostly on the distinctive jacket she wore at the time of her death: buck-skin, with eye-catching fringe along the sleeves.

Ultimately, it was advanced DNA analysis involving genealogy databases that proved the crucial breakthrough that identified the notorious unidentified cold case as Marcia L. King, a 21-year-old from Arkansas, authorities announced today.

The buck-skin jacket worn by Marcia L. King when she was found dead in 1981. (Photo: Courtesy of the Miami County Sheriff's Office)

The advanced analysis that connected King’s DNA to surviving relatives in a public genealogy database was performed by a group called the DNA Doe Project, which was founded by forensic genealogists Colleen Fitzpatrick and Margaret Press last year.

“The DNA confirmation was made on Monday April 9, 2018 by the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab,” said the Miami County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday. “The Miami County Coroner, Dr. William Ginn, will issue the death certificate.”

King was found in the roadside ditch next to Greenlee Road on April 24, 1981. She was fully clothed, and had been dead less than two days, with no significant decomposition. She had not been raped.

Her hair was tied in braids, and the buck-skin jacket with fringe she wore was considered to be a potential identifying factor. But no identification was determined, despite hundreds of hours of investigation.

A facial reconstruction of the "Buck Skin Girl," later identified as 21-year-old Marcia King. (Photo: Courtesy of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Pollen analysis in 2016 determined that her jacket had been worn in places of dry-oak forests, like in the Northeast, and the clothing also had other grains from a dry region in the western part of the country. Stable isotope analysis later that year determined that she had been in Texas or Oklahoma in the year preceding her death.

But the work by Fitzpatrick, known for her work in leading Phoenix homicide detectives to the doorstep of the “Canal Killer” in 2015, and her colleague MPress has effectively determined it was King, of Arkansas, who is the “Buck-Skin Girl.”

Fitzpatrick could not be reached immediately on the exact method of matching King’s DNA to surviving relatives. However, the Miami County authorities said in their release that King’s genetic information came from a blood sample taken from her body in 1981, and up-loaded to a public genealogy database.

Det. Steve Hickey, of the Miami County Sheriff’s Office, told Forensic Magazine that the case was forensically “groundbreaking,” because of the breakthrough made by Fitzpatrick and Press. The unrefrigerated blood sample yielded DNA to the two experts – and then led to a genealogical match in a site called GEDmatch, he said.

“I encourage any law enforcement agency who had a cold case like this to do everything they can,” said Hickey.

The pollen and isotope analysis was not far off, either, he said – it showed that King traveled a lot in her last years of life. So far, authorities can point to her being in Louisville, Ky. before she died – and Pittsburgh, Pa., in March 1981, in the month before she was killed.  

Now they have an active homicide investigation, Hickey added.

“We can start a victimology now,” Hickey said, adding that tips have already been coming into the Sheriff’s tip line at (937) 440-3990.

Similar genealogical database work in California had determined the identity of a girl who was abandoned at an RV park in the 1980s – and thereby led to the trail of the heretofore unknown “Chameleon Killer” Terry Peder Rasmussen last year.