A sighting by her ex-husband, or just mistaken identity?
If you’d like to help the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department give identities back to some of the Jane and John Does that have been recovered in Southern Mississippi, you may send checks to:
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Auxiliary Fund
3104 Magnolia St. Pascagoula, MS 39567
Amanda Reno: Last time on Solvable…
Investigators focused their attention on Phillip, Gwen’s boyfriend who ran off with her and Alisha just after Thanksgiving of 1982.
After a few days, Phillip returned to Missouri without the mother and daughter and his conflicting stories about where they were didn’t sit right with Gwen’s family…but at the time there was nothing they could do.
Sgt. Eddie Clark: We’ve done searches for her SSN which turned up nothing absolutely nothing, as of 1982, no public assistance no nothing, there is nothing out there with her name on it past 1982.
Amanda Reno: Decades later, Jackson County sheriff’s officials announced the true identity of Gwen and Alisha to the public. Bringing some closure to the Southern Mississippi community.
Sheriff Mike Ezell: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. For those of you that don’t know me, I am sheriff Mike Ezell Sheriff here in Jackson County, we want to welcome you.
Amanda Reno: Not long after that press conference, Teresa, Gwen’s sister, revealed that in the years after Gwen vanished, their grandmother received multiple phone calls from an unknown man, claiming Gwen and Alisha were alive and well.
Investigators’ suspicions about Phillip led them to believe that he was the person who could have made those phone calls.
He would have had the grandmother’s phone number through his dog grooming service.
Teresa: My grandma took her dogs to him, so he would have had access to her phone number. Just to throw us off, you know, that we think that she’s okay.
Amanda Reno: For a long time, investigators in Jackson County thought that no one saw Gwen or Alisha after their trip to Florida with Phillip. That is until they spoke with James, Gwen’s second ex-husband.
Greg Bodker: During a phone interview with us last fall, James swore that he actually saw Gwen alive, 7 years after she went missing.
*Car brakes squeaking and engine idling*
James: I’ll tell you like I told the cops, I saw her once after that in the year 1989. I was outside mowing my yard and she drove by that house in a car and saw me. Slowed down literally to a crawl, I could have walked beside the car. Looking at me until she passed my house and then she left and I never saw her since then.
Greg Bodker: How confident are you that it was her you saw back then?
James: Oh, very, I’m pretty confident it was her, cause she looked right at me. She was wearing her glasses and she looked right at me. That was 7 or 8 years after she left. Yeah.
Greg Bodker: We’re not suggesting that you should doubt James’s story but, it is important for us to let you know that when James first agreed to speak with us for the show he commented that he did have medical issues that impact his memory.
In our interview, he was adamant that Gwen was the woman who he saw in 1989, enough to swear to that information when Jackson County investigators interviewed him.
I mean, James was married to Gwen after all. I’m sure he would recognize his ex-wife, right? For a period of time in his life, he woke up next to her and fell asleep next to her every day. It’s hard to mistake an intimate partner’s identity.
On top of that, James and Gwen went to high school together too. They’d known one another for years. So, there’s long-term memories there as well.
I’ve found myself asking the question that you probably are and that is, is it possible Gwen drove by James’ house at one point, just as he remembers it, but maybe the date he remembers that happening is just wrong in his mind?
Of course, that’s possible.
Like with so many aspects of this case, unless Gwen is found, there are parts of the story we’ll likely never get the answers to.
While researching this case, we’ve gone over the many theories as to what could have happened, but those theories seem to evolve and change every time we learn a new piece of information.
The same can be said for law enforcement.
After thinking about this case nearly every day during the year we’ve been putting this show together, we still found ourselves settling at different possibilities of what happened to Gwen and Alisha.
The reality of the situation is that none of our theories may be what actually happened, but here are a few scenarios we believe the case evidence and witness interviews strongly point to.
One, Phillip was involved and did something to Alisha and Gwen either on his way to or from Florida.
If you believe that theory, then James’ story about seeing Gwen alive in 1989 cannot be accurate.
You also have to believe that Phillip was lying when he told Gwen’s family in Missouri that he dropped Gwen and Alisha off with a rich man in Kansas City before returning home to his wife and kids.
Here’s Sergeant Eddie Clark again to explain the details of that story.
Sgt. Eddie Clark: We had actually gotten the story from Teresa that the suspect had come back and told the father, told Gwen’s father that he had dropped her off in Kansas City, Missouri, and that’s where she met this multi-millionaire. He owned a yacht in Florida and her and the baby and this millionaire took off for Florida.
Greg Bodker: The second theory is that Phillip wasn’t involved.
This theory means that Phillip was just a troubled man who abandoned Gwen and Alisha in Mississippi after realizing he’d made a terrible mistake leaving his family in Missouri for his girlfriend.
If that’s the case and he really had nothing to do with Gwen and Alisha’s fate, it’s possible he just left them on I-10 in Jackson County in December 1982 and they fell victim to violence by someone else’s hands.
Perhaps they were even victims of the same person or persons who may have been responsible for killing several other young women in Jackson County in the 1970’s and ’80’s.
This theory brings us back to the tales of convicted criminal Lovie Riddle, who we talked about at length earlier this season.
You have to ask yourself the question, did what happened to Alisha and Gwen occur just as Lovie explained in his journals?
Hope Manning: Lovie even said that a biker by the name of Spider had actually thrown Delta over that bridge. He was in a biker club.
In his journals, he admitted that he’s the one that killed Delta and shot the mother with a .22 under her chin.
Amanda Reno: It’s hard to decipher what’s true and what’s false when it comes to Lovie’s claims.
But what we DO know is true is that in the same area in the years leading up to Alisha being found dead and Gwen vanishing Rose Marie Levandoski, Janie Sanders, Debra Gunter, and Clara Turk were brutally abducted and murdered.
The big question is, is did the murders of young women in Southern Mississippi stop after Clara Turk was killed in 1979?
Because if the deaths didn’t end with Clara, then it’s very possible Gwen and Alisha were additional victims of the same or similar killers operating in Jackson County.
We reached out to Lt. Darren Versiga of the Pascagoula Police department to clarify when he remembers the rate of violent murders slowing or halting altogether and his response was shocking.
According to Darren Versiga with Pascagoula police, the abduction and murder of teenage girls, children, young women, and even men in Jackson County did not stop after Clara Turk was killed in 1979.
Darren rattled off several unsolved murder cases that followed Clara’s case and that sent us on a quest for more information.
For starters, we already knew about Baby Jane 2 who Jackson County investigator Hope Manning realized was buried next to Alisha Heinrich’s unnamed grave in 1988.
But we were completely unprepared for the volume of cases we’d find in NAMUS that all tie back to the Jackson County, Mississippi region.
On December 24, 1987, skeletal remains of a man who’d been stabbed multiple times were found in a muddy area in Escatawpa’s Greenwood Cemetery near the Escatawpa River. He’d been there for a substantial amount of time.
*Water lapping & seagulls*
March 11, 1990, The lower torso of a white male was found floating in the Mississippi Sound just offshore from Pascagoula. Dark work pants were found with the remains and in the pocket was a key-fob from a Pensacola, Florida car lot. The words “Court Van” were scratched on the back of the fob. According to a forensic anthropologist, the remains could have been in the water for as long as 5 years.
February 1, 1991, female remains were found in the nearby town of Vancleave, Mississippi.
There was recently a big update on this case. While we were producing this show in June of 2021, genetic genealogy results came in for this Jane Doe. After 30 years of being unnamed and unknown, she was officially identified as Kimberley Ann Funk of Sharon, Pennsylvania.
If that doesn’t prove just how important and impactful genetic genealogy testing efforts can be, I don’t know what could.
*Water lapping onshore*
Kimberly Funk’s success story is definitely worth celebrating, but even in that excitement, we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are so many other cases in Jackson County that need resolution.
On April 17, 1992, a male was found washed ashore in a county waterway and mummified. His autopsy showed he’d likely been placed in a cooler or frozen for an unknown period of time before being put in the water.
December 5, 1992, hunters in Vancleave found partial skeletal remains of a male.
While we were pulling information, we also took a look at murders that occurred prior to Alisha and Gwen’s case in 1982. Just to see what other deaths we didn’t know about.
On January 1, 1972, a female’s body with a blanket with it was found under the sand laying by a waterway No clothing was noted as being with the victim.
December 27, 1977, three men rabbit hunting found a female victim’s body in the woods at Highway 613 and I-10. At the time, I-10 was not complete so it was just a wooded area.
It’s pretty shocking, and almost unbelievable how many murder victims there are in one geographic area of Southern Mississippi, and not only that but, all of these cases from NAMUS are still unsolved.
We could have made countless podcasts about these victims, but as you’ve heard for the last nine episodes, Baby Alisha’s case and our investigation into what happened to her mother Gwen has taken a lot of time in and of itself.
Greg Bodker: Another realistic theory our Solvable team and Jackson County investigators have considered that could explain what happened to Gwen and baby Alisha is Ted, the truck driver who initially reported seeing an adult’s body in the Pascagoula River the same day Alisha’s tiny body was found in the Escatawpa River.
His story has wavered wildly over the years.
First, he said he for sure saw a body floating in the river, but then years later he changed his story to say that he didn’t see a body at all, he only heard a baby crying.
Those inconsistencies and his unwillingness to speak with us for the show caused us to wonder if it’s possible he played a bigger role in the events back in 1982.
Mississippi authorities have discussed Ted and the details of his stories at length during group discussions we’ve sat in on.
Jackson County Investigator: When did that interstate open? ‘80-‘81, so if you were having problems with your truck, why would you, if you seen the woman at the long bridge, why wouldn’t you stop at the first place there’s a phone? You would see that truck stop there, next stop is Jay Jays/Fords.
Perfectly describes the mother, that what got me, he was able to perfectly describe what she was wearing. You wouldn’t be able to spot that.
I just don’t get being able to give that description without stopping. But if you knew what she had on because you killed her.
Greg Bodker: As true as that statement may be, it’s still important to mention that truck driver Ted has never been arrested for what happened to Baby Alisha or Gwen.
The last theory that we’ve brought up throughout this show is one that suggests the possibility that Gwen is still alive.
Over and over the evidence and testimony, in this case, doesn’t support that but because Gwen’s body has never been found and we can’t even say for sure that she is dead, we can’t rule out the idea that she could still be alive.
This theory takes into consideration James’s alleged sighting of Gwen and a few other factors her family discussed in their interviews.
Overall, it’s hard to commit to one theory over the other.
Aunt Alicia, Gwen’s sister-in-law, is convinced Gwen was a murder victim and has been dead for decades.
Aunt Alicia: She was a very caring mom.
She wouldn’t have been a threat to nobody.
It just makes you wonder why, what goes through people’s minds when they do something like that it’s very sad.
It would be nice to know or get Gwen, find her, bring her back so she can be with her family.
Greg Bodker: Gwen being deceased is likely at this point.
But there is still so much that’s unknown and that’s the reality the Jackson County sheriff’s office and every investigator who’s worked on this case has had to face.
Terry: It’s the one that haunts us, Greg, a few others that have passed away, because we couldn’t figure out who did it.
Chief Deputy John Ledbetter: But the why is still there.
Greg Bodker: Alisha Ann Heinrich has her name back but Gwendolyn Clemmons is still waiting to be found.
In all of the cases we’ve shared with you this season, there is a person waiting for their name.
There’s John Does and Jane Does whose identities and stories are mysteries that need to be unraveled.
With so many individuals waiting to be reunited with their identities, we discussed as a team how we could help leverage the impact of what we’re doing to move the needle in the right direction.
We’ve decided to use the platform this podcast has created to raise funds to complete genetic genealogy testing on as many of these John and Jane Doe cases from Jackson County as possible.
If you want to make a financial donation to that cause, we encourage you to give directly to the Jackson County, Mississippi Sheriff’s Auxiliary Fund, which is a non-profit 501c3.
Here’s Chief Deputy John Ledbetter to explain a little more about that fund.
Chief Deputy John Ledbetter: We could use this to accept funds for investigative purposes that are not outlined in the general fund to accept donations from the public for ongoing investigations. Stuff that isn’t budgeted.
Greg Bodker: Obviously you guys are now getting, you are getting pretty good at figuring out how to follow that DNA evidence and solve cases. Moving forward is that something that the Sheriff’s Department interesting in moving forward and solving other cases in the future?
Chief Deputy John Ledbetter: Absolutely so. And you know buried right next to Alisha, who is Baby Jane, buried right next to her is another Baby Jane, Baby Jane Two. That is a case from 1988. Another Jackson County case. That is our intention, to use this technology, use the investigative techniques from Baby Jane’s case, from Alisha’s case, to use towards this case and doing the exact same thing. Which we have a lot of work ahead of us to do on that.
We’re going to use the experiences that we learned in this first case, this first Baby Jane case, Alisha’s case, to go forward with any and other applicable cases that we can use it on to solve deaths and unknown deaths, and unknown murders in Jackson County. Anything that we can assist, anything that we have outstanding as far as cold cases we would approach in the same way that we have.
It has been beneficial to us throughout this investigation and we expect the same in other investigations.
Greg Bodker: Chief Ledbetter emphasized the best way to donate is to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Auxilary Fund directly through the department. That information is on our website, solvablepodcast.com.
As for the research portion of genetic genealogy, Amanda’s company, AdvanceDNA will donate the genetic genealogy research to any cases the Jackson County sheriff’s office requests help on.
By removing the financial barrier that many agencies face when considering genetic genealogy, it’s the Solvable team’s hope that some of these individuals may be able to be reunited with their identities, and like Alisha Heinrich’s family, they can get a chance for some answers as to what became of their missing loved one.
Amanda Reno: From our experience, we know it can be hard for an agency to get funding for genetic genealogy in cold case investigations, and it can be even harder to raise funds for John and Jane Doe cases.
These victims don’t have family members advocating for attention on their cases.
Sometimes it takes someone within the agency, or people within the community to step up and be the advocate for the case of a stranger, to be the squeaky wheel, if you will.
As sergeant Eddie Clark puts it, there are more cases than anyone can imagine that need your help and a financial contribution to genetic genealogy testing is a huge resource.
The only things Eddie says have been missing to push these cases forward are people willing to help find resolution and truly believe, like we do, that every case is solvable.
Sgt. Eddie Clark: Just please come forward, you know, these types of crimes are so disturbing because, you know, because you just completely erased this person. You completely take everything away from this person, not only were they killed or murdered or whatever the circumstances were, but you completely erased them. They don’t even exist anymore without a name. They never existed without a name, and that’s gut-wrenching. Somebody’s loved one is in this situation, and nobody knows that they are out there somewhere.
Greg Bodker: Solvable is an audiochuck original show
Narration by Amanda Reno and Greg Bodker.
Produced by 1982 Audiocast.
Series advisor Delia D’Ambra.
Sound design and editing by Kyle O’Connor.
If you have any information on the cases mentioned at any time in this podcast series, we urge you to make a call to the Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers line at 1-877-787-5898 or visit their website at mscoastcrimestoppers.com
Amanda Reno: We would like to extend our gratitude to Sheriff Mike Ezell and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for their participation in the making of this podcast, with special thanks to the family of Gwendolyn Mae Clemmons and Alisha Ann Heinrich, and all others who gave their time with the hope of advancing their case and the cases of others in Jackson County Mississippi.