How many killers can you have in such a small area? Investigators explore the possibility that the case of Baby Jane/Delta Dawn and her missing mother is connected to other currently unsolved cases in the area from the same timeframe.
Amanda Reno: On the last episode of Solvable…
Hope Manning discovered that a second baby girl had been murdered in Southern Mississippi in 1988, six years after Jackson County deputy Mike Waugh first found Baby Jane in the Escatawpa River.
The identity of that child is still unknown.
In 2019, Baby Jane from 1982’s DNA was sent for genetic genealogy analysis, leaving everyone in Jackson County breathlessly anticipating the results.
The condition of the sample from Baby Jane’s water grave was degraded though so finding out who she was, was going to take a lab in Houston awhile to determine.
While authorities waited, they began reviewing the possibility that Baby Jane’s case and the case of her missing mother may be connected to other crimes that occurred in Southern Mississippi in the years before and after 1982.
In today’s episode, we’re exploring a few of those cases to figure out if they have any relevance to Baby Jane.
Greg Bodker: The first case that investigators looked at in light of everything they’d uncovered about Baby Jane was the disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Rose Marie Levandoski in February of 1973.
*School bell ringing*
Rose Marie attended Saint Martin Junior High School in the town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. About 15 miles west of Pascagoula in Jackson County.
Around one o’clock during the school day, Rose Marie had a 10-minute break between her Math and English classes and excused herself to go to the restroom.
She left her books, coat, and purse on top of her desk, but never returned to the classroom.
*Desks moving across the floor & teacher talking*
The class resumed without her and soon several of her classmates noticed that Rose Marie was gone. A few students repeatedly brought up Rose Marie’s absence to teachers, but no one did anything and no searches got underway to figure out where she’d gone.
The school also did not report Rose Marie’s absence to her parents.
It wasn’t until several hours later when the school day had ended and Rose Marie failed to return home, that authorities were notified, and a search began.
Lieutenant Darren Versiga of the Pascagoula Police Department spoke with us about the investigation.
*River water trickling*
He said 20 days after Rose Marie vanished a local police department responded to a report that her body had been found in the nearby Tchoutacabouffa River.
She had been murdered.
Lt. Darren Versiga: Her face was extremely distorted where she had been dead for quite a while, they thought. and the hole in her back, they thought was some kind of knife hole or some kind of screwdriver she was stabbed with a screwdriver, and that’s gotta be pretty damn difficult.
But they thought she had been in, but there was really no indication on how long they thought she was there or how long she had been dead.
Amanda Reno: According to legal documents and newspaper articles from back in 1973, Rose Marie’s mother filed a complaint with the school system for not reporting her daughter’s disappearance to the authorities or looking for her until the school day was over.
At the time, it was a well-known fact within the community and within the school system that the area surrounding Saint Martin Junior High School was frequented by characters whose behaviors adversely affected the well-being of the students.
Her mother said that if school officials had noticed and taken appropriate action when Rose Marie did not come back from her bathroom break, it was possible that she would still be alive.
To this day, Rose Marie’s killer has never been identified and her case remains unsolved.
Greg Bodker: Rose Marie’s murder is just one of a string of homicides in Jackson County, that is unresolved.
The next homicide of a young girl in the area occurred in 1975.
That’s the case of 16-year-old Janie Sanders.
Her murder was followed by the 1978 murder of 20-year-old Debra Gunter and 1979 killing of 19-year-old Clara Turk.
Jackson County investigators have considered that it’s possible several, or maybe even all of these crimes are connected.
The thought that several young women who were murdered in the late 1970’s all within a few miles of one another in Pascagoula, Mississippi could be connected by the same predator isn’t too far-fetched for Jackson County law enforcement agencies to think.
Here’s Pascagoula Police lieutenant Darren Versiga again.
Lt. Darren Versiga: Now I can’t say, you know, I at one time thought that a city of Pascagoula, that had at it most maybe 40k population, and that is going to be rather high, but the majority of our population is 20-25k maybe 30k is the population, now we have a lot of transient traffic, but here is my thing, how many killers can you have in a city that is that small?
Greg Bodker: I mean, how often DO you have four young women or girls abducted from similar locations, murdered, and discarded in the same area over the span of 6 years?
Also, I should mention that records for each victim indicate that they were all found nude and either bound, stabbed, or drowned.
In a couple of the cases, the victims were snatched from the same roadway.
*Cars driving on the highways*
Amanda Reno: In the middle of the same area that all of these abductions and murders happened was the last place Baby Jane was seen in the arms of what witnesses believed to be her mother.
The question we’re asking and the same question Jackson County investigators have to consider is, could Baby Jane and her mother be victims of the same predator who murdered all of the victims in the mid to late 1970’s?
From what we know, Baby Jane’s mother’s description could match the same demographic as each of these women.
All of the known victims were young females, who were last seen alone. All of them were dumped either in the woods or in bodies of water miles from where they were last seen alive.
Greg Bodker: One of the cases that Jackson County and Pascagoula investigators have taken a close look at is the abduction and murder of Janie Sanders.
*Birds chirping, dog barking*
On September 24th, 1975, at 3:30 in the afternoon, 16-year-old Janie was walking home from her high school in Pascagoula when she was abducted by a man on a street corner.
*Car engine idling*
The suspect was initially described as being between 20 and 25 years old and was driving a red mustang. He had shoulder-length dark hair with light streaks, parted down the middle and feathered at the temples. His hair was described as dirty, oily, and stringy. A witness who got a look at his face said he may have had a thin pencil-like mustache.
Police reports indicate that within 40 minutes of being taken Janie’s young life was snuffed out.
She was found nude, her body on a dirt road off of US 90, 15 miles away from where she was abducted just across the Alabama state line in an area used to dump trash.
She was bound, had been raped, and was stabbed more than a dozen times.
Police at the time never found any of her clothes or belongings.
Authorities determined her killer, or killers, had less than 20 minutes to commit this awful crime, when you account for the time, it would have taken them to drive to the dumpsite.
Initial reports that stated her abductor was driving a bright red Ford Mustang shifted when a conflicting account came into police from the game warden who found Janie’s body.
This game warden said he saw a blue El Camino with a whip-like antenna and camper speeding away from the dumpsite shortly before he discovered Janie’s body.
To make matters worse, a state trooper who’d been posted on US 90 during the 40 minutes Janie was missing.
When this trooper was interviewed, he stated he never saw a red Mustang on US-90 during that time period, but he was never interviewed about the blue El Camino.
It remains unclear today which vehicle if either of them could be associated with Janie’s murder.
Amanda Reno: Three years later, on Tuesday, December 5th, 1978, 20-year-old Debra Gunter reported for work at a convenience store in Gautier (Go-shay), Mississippi, a town that neighbors Pascagoula.
Around 3:30 am while working her shift, Debra was kidnapped.
According to articles by The Mobile Register, police believed two men took her and held her hostage while they robbed her store and two others.
Then her assailant or assailants took her across state lines to McIntosh, Alabama where she was bound, strangled, and stabbed to death with a small knife.
Just like Janie, Debra’s body was left like trash in an area locals dumped garbage in. Her body was eventually discovered on December 9th, 1978.
Here’s Pascagoula Police Lieutenant Darren Versiga again.
Lt. Darren Versiga: She was at a convenience store, was a little 5 and dime store, it’s located in Gautier, which is our sister city. It’s about 15 miles from Pascagoula. It’s completely off the highway, completely off the interstate, there would be no reason for someone, just um, driving around the area. It too makes you think it could be someone local. But this store is off the beaten path, and then she’s dumped over there in McIntosh Alabama, so you got another Alabama connection.
I went and pulled every record from McIntosh, Alabama out of their court system for anyone that was connected to over here. And there was so many people that come from Jackson County to over there. There was so many connectors to people over this way to McIntosh Alabama. I’ve heard of Mcintosh, but I’ve never even been there until I looked at this case. And I’ve lived here my whole life.”
Her breasts were exposed, she was clothed from the hips down, had one shoe on one shoe off, and had on one stocking, both stockings were off. I think…
She was stabbed 32 times in the heart. Um, she was tied up with her clothing, with one of her stockings. She had two stockings on, mini stockings, one of those was used and her bra was used. And I think, maybe, her shirt, there was three things tied around her wrists behind her back.
Amanda Reno: That detail, about the way Debra was bound, got investigators’ attention and they’d have no idea how important it would become as years went by.
Greg Bodker: The only similarity Jackson County investigators saw between Rose Marie, Janie, and Debra’s cases so far, besides all of the murders having similar victimology, was the fact that all of the victims had been bound.
That similarity would, unfortunately, pop up again when another horrific homicide happened in Pascagoula in August of 1979.
That was the case of 19-year-old Clara Turk who was a young mother from Pascagoula who had a steady live-in boyfriend and by all accounts enjoyed her life like most young women her age did.
Lt. Darren Versiga: She had been seen the night, let me see, August 20th, same day she was found. She um, a night before or 2 nights before, I think it was the 19th, she was at a bar dancing and people saw her and described the clothing. Which is the same clothing she had on, which was a yellow halter top. And she was out dancing, and when she was killed, she didn’t come home. She had an 11-month-old baby, her boyfriend, her live-in boyfriend, was basically babysitting while she went out to go party, and they had that agreement and he was fine with it. He was not a partier, he liked to go to work. She liked to party and they had a good relationship.”
All this is going to be in Pascagoula where her body is found, and so she is probably hitchhiking or she was just walking home. She was not far from where her home was. She was partying, she could have walked there, wouldn’t have been no problem. She walked mostly everywhere she went, she didn’t drive a car.
Greg Bodker: For investigators, Clara’s murder had one unique difference from the others.
She had been bound and drowned, not stabbed.
But what really got Jackson County investigators’ attention about her case decades later was the fact that Clara’s body was found in the same place Baby Jane was recovered in the Escatawpa River.
And not only that, one month after Baby Jane was discovered, another young woman disappeared in Jackson County and her mutilated body was dumped in the exact same spot.
That woman’s name is Karon Ann Pierce.
In Karon’s case, suspects would emerge and leave investigators wondering if a self-professed serial killer was behind all of the murders. Including what happened to Baby Jane and her mother that cold night in December 1982.
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.
With the Delta case, he said that Spider had hooked up with a mom that had a child.
Greg Bodker: That’s next time, on Solvable…