JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. — Investigators in Mississippi continue their work on a cold case that got its start in southwest Missouri.
It was 40 years ago when witnesses say they saw a visibly distressed woman walking barefoot along a highway in Jackson County, Mississippi. It was December 3, 1982, so it was cold out and witnesses said even more disturbing than her being barefoot, was that she was carrying a baby. According to Jackson County Deputy Sheriff Randy Muffley, no official reports were made by these witnesses. However, it’s been said the drivers offered their support to the young woman, but she refused.
A Watery Grave
A truck driver traveling on I-10 between the Pascagoula and Escatawpa Rivers called authorities on December 5, 1982, saying he saw a woman’s body floating in the Pascagoula River in Jackson, Mississippi. The description he gave matched that of the woman witnesses said was walking along the highway with her baby. The driver agreed to meet up with officers, but when an officer arrived at the agreed location, the truck driver was a no-show. And when deputies searched the area where the truck driver indicated he saw a woman’s body, instead of finding a woman they found a strawberry blonde-haired baby girl floating near the delta of the neighboring Escatawpa River waters.
She became known as “Baby Jane Doe.”
Based on the little girl’s teeth, it is estimated she was around 18 months old, weighing roughly 20 to 25 pounds and she was about two and a half feet tall. She was found wearing a red and white checkered dress and a diaper. Due to their clouded appearance from death, officials could not determine exactly, but they suspect she had either blue or brown eyes. The autopsy report states the little girl died up to two days before being found – the cause of death: asphyxiation, which authorities said could include drowning. However, there is speculation that there was an attempt to smother the baby before she drowned.
After dragging both rivers in search of the woman’s body, authorities did find the skeletal remains of a man, which officials say was determined to be unrelated to Baby Jane Doe’s case.
Authorities say they were able to meet with the truck driver later in the investigation, however, the timeline is unclear. Chief Deputy Muffley says the truck driver’s story has changed throughout the years from initially spotting a woman in the water to hearing a baby cry as someone passed by in his semi-truck.
Officials were left with more questions than answers in Baby Jane Doe’s case and the mystery woman reportedly seen floating in the nearby river.
Community members gathered to give the baby a proper funeral and burial. She was given the name “Delta Dawn,” and her tombstone read “Known Only to God.”
No Leads, More Murders
Between 1973 to 1983 there was a string of murders in the Jackson County, Mississippi area. The bodies of the murdered were found either near or in the same area as Baby Jane Doe. A registered sex offender with a history of previous violent convictions was questioned by authorities as a witness. Chief Deputy Muffley says the man told officers he knew who killed Baby Jane and her mother. However, there is no evidence to support the man’s claims. Muffley says the man confessed to a number of crimes from Texas to Canada he did not commit and reports indicate his story changed throughout the years.
Baby Jane’s Body Identified
The case made no progress for decades and in 2008 a Jackson County investigator reopened the file. Advancements in science over the years led investigators to exhume Baby Jane Doe’s little body to retrieve samples of her DNA to create a profile.
After years of disappointing results, authorities finally got results from new DNA testing and in December 2020, the investigative team announced the identity of Baby Jane Doe. The genetic genealogy led them to a relative in Joplin, Missouri. It turned out to be Baby Jane Doe’s aunt, who says her sister, Gwendolyn (Gwen) Mae Clemons of Webb City, and niece, Alisha Ann Heinrich, had been missing since Thanksgiving of 1982. Following this discovery, investigators formally identified Baby Jane Doe as Alisha Ann Heinrich and Gwen was officially listed as a missing person.
Investigators believed the mystery woman and baby reportedly seen by truckers on December 3rd and 5th were Gwendolyn and Alisha.
Leading up to the disappearance
With reports pieced together from Gwen’s sister, ex-husband, and ex-sister-in-law, officials were able to piece together what was going on in Gwen’s life before she disappeared, and who was believed to be the last person to see Gwen and Baby Alisha alive – an unidentified Webb City Police Officer. It’s reported that he left his job, his wife, and three kids shortly before Thanksgiving of 1982 to run away with Gwen and start a new life together in Florida as dog groomers. Gwen’s family says they saw Gwen leave with Alisha and the unnamed male friend in a U-Haul that Thanksgiving.
Chief Deputy Muffley says the couple reportedly traveled to Kansas City, Missouri before heading to Florida.
During the investigation, authorities made contact with the unidentified officer’s (ex)wife, who confirmed he was having a relationship with Gwen at the time and that he left for Florida. Shortly after he left, she says he called her claiming he had a mental collapse and did not know how he ended up in Florida. Upon returning home, his ex-wife made him seek psychiatric care. She told authorities his doctor called her to say said her husband was a pathological liar and their marriage eventually ended.
However, Gwen’s family says the unnamed officer returned to Missouri, without Gwen, Alisha, or the U-Haul, and told them he dropped Gwen and Alisha off in Kansas City and she left with a wealthy man from Oklahoma.
By the time officials identified the unnamed police officer as a person of interest, they learned he had died several years earlier. When they interviewed his children, one said he returned from Florida a very different person than when he had left. They had no real relationship with their father after that.
Officials have chosen to keep the unidentified man’s identity confidential to protect his family from harassment.
Closure and Questions
It was 38 years, almost to the day, when investigators officially announced the identification of Baby Jane as Alisha Ann Heinrich. However, the question about what happened to Gwen and Alisha between Thanksgiving 1982 and the day Baby Alisha was found in the river, remains a mystery. Gwendolyn Mae Clemons, is still considered a missing person.
“Based on what the family has said, Gwen loved Alisha and there’s no condemning evidence Gwen is responsible for Alisha’s death,” said Chief Deputy Muffley. “I feel confident saying she (Gwen) is deceased, just her body was never recovered.”
Over the years internet sleuths and true-crime content creators have picked up on the case keeping it relevant within the media. The ‘Solvable’ podcast by Audiochuck deep dives into exclusive content and interviews from the investigation team and witnesses that helped identify Baby Jane’s body through genetic testing.
Officials have not given up hope to one day find out what happened to Gwen and who killed baby Alisha. If you have any information about the case, you can contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department or the Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers.