Murder Mystery in Blue Earth

The Fairmont Sentinel has published a riveting series about a Blue Earth cold case. It's the story of a Jane Doe, strangled and dumped in a ditch, her body found by a farmer after floating some distance in floodwaters. It was 1980. Eventually, after searching in vain for the woman's killer and her identity, Fairbault County paid $1,500 to have her buried in Blue Earth's Riverside Cemetery. Her tombstone read: “Unidentified Woman: Found May 30, 1980 near Interstate 90 east of Blue Earth.” The killer, a former state trooper and member of a religious cult, eventually confessed to the killing but could not help with the woman's identity. He said she was a hitchhiker. He's up for parole. Perhaps the most incredible part of this story is the woman recently moved to Blue Earth has made it her mission to find out who Jane Doe was.

Read the series, written by Sentinel Staff Writer Sarah Day, here...

Part One: Jane Doe’s body opens mystery

“It wasn’t totally unexpected,” says Faribault County Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Kabe. “That highway (Interstate 90) had been open for four to five years. Everybody said before that four-lane was open — with the rest stops and stuff — you’ll probably have murders.”

Part Two: Former state trooper admitted killing Jane Doe

Nelson lived on a farm in rural Elmore when he served district 2200. He was loosely affiliated with the Lutheran church at that time and had three children with his second wife.

Nelson was in a high-speed chase, wrecking his squad car and suffering some injuries the week of May 30, 1980. He took a few days off, when the nude body of a caucasian woman was found in a drainage ditch about six miles east of Blue Earth off Interstate 90.

Part Three: Jane Doe finds an advocate

Deborah Anderson moved to Blue Earth in 1991. Around 2003, a retired Blue Earth police officer told her an unidentified woman was buried in the cemetery.

Anderson, 38, who works for the Minnesota State-Mankato in human resources, became intrigued. She went home and checked for any information she could find. What she found was nothing.

“I thought, well that’s odd,” she said. “How long would I look for my child? Probably forever.”

Part Four: The search for an identity continues

Kabe has always had one name in mind for Jane Doe — Jacqueline Lerman. She disappeared from New York a few weeks before the Blue Earth Jane Doe was discovered. Lerman was in her early 30s, and had similar physical descriptions. Kabe took Lerman’s dental information to two area dentists, who both said she was a match. Kabe then sent it to the medical examiner, who told them Lerman was not a match. Lerman has been ruled out at least twice before with dental comparisons, but Kabe still believes Lerman is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

“I would stake half my life on it,” he said.

In November 2007, the U. S. Department of Justice released statistics from 1980 to 2004. It said 10,300 unidentified remains were reported to the National Death Index.

A tip of the hat to Ollie Ox at Bluestem Prairie, who posted word of this series and commented:

Amazing stuff. And we recall our own girlhood in Southern Minnesota, when we'd hear about young women's bodies dumped along remote stretches of roads or in fields. It used to scare the heck out of us, but there'd be murmurs about "bad girls" who got what they deserved, rather than outrage at the brutal criminals.

All that changed with victims' advocacy programs that began to blossom about the time that this poor woman was brutally raped and murdered. The first article notes that there was no public outcry at the time the body was found, though one of the retired cops interviewed notes that local women were probably terrified.

That is that darker side to the pastoral childhood we enjoyed, and as the article suggests, the part no one should wish for again in southern Minnesota, or anywhere.

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