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DNA Doe Project helps KSP identify victim in 20-year-old cold case

Published: Jul. 31, 2021 at 10:58 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Earlier this week, Kentucky State Police released the identity of a victim in a 20-year-old cold case.

On October 9, 2001, Kentucky State Police initiated the death investigation after human remains were found at the 12-mile marker of I-65 in Simpson County.

During that time, no leads were available and the identity of the remains was unknown.

Now, one family has partial answers but getting to that point was not easy.

One non-profit, the DNA Doe Project helped KSP identify the victim as Dawn Clare Plonsky Wilkerson.

“Every time we have identified a candidate, it’s very bittersweet, because while we’ve possibly solved the case, there’s also a family now that that starts to deal with a whole other level of grieving and mourning because they’ve got the answers,” says Franchesca Werden, with the DNA Doe Project.

Missy Koski also with the DNA Doe Project spoke on getting contacted by law enforcement.

“Kentucky State Police contacted the DNA Doe project to see if there was anything that we could do to help, to help them identify this Jane Doe. Kentucky State Police actually were able to come up with their own funds, and they funded this case,” says Koski.

Jane Doe was later identified as Dawn Clare Plonsky Wilkerson.

“The highest matches that they got were in probably the third cousin range, or further back. So what that meant was that the doe and the DNA match shared great, great grandparents,” added Werden.

The mission of the DNA Doe Project is to use genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Doe’s.

Werden spoke on the process, “a DNA sample will be taken from a John or Jane Doe and it goes through a sometimes very long process. So DNA has to be extracted from a bone or a tooth or something the remains, once a DNA, the DNA sample has been extracted, it goes through whole-genome sequencing, which is a little bit different than when somebody will take a direct to consumer DNA test. In this case, it’s been two decades, it’s almost 20 years before they even knew what happened and that’s really the motivating factor is we can’t bring that family member back, but we can help to provide some answers.”

The non-profit is made up of volunteers who do genealogical research.

Koski also says, “every case is completely different. But it really keeps us going, knowing that maybe, hopefully, we can give them some answers, and if we can return their actual name, then their family gets some closure. They know what happened to their loved one. We’re so happy for Dawn’s family. We don’t know her circumstances, we don’t know everything that happened. But, but we’re very sad for what happened to her. But we’re so happy that we could help law enforcement and bring closure to this family.”

If you’d like to learn more about the DNA Doe Project or donate, click here.

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