Police in Marana, Arizona, have solved a 28-year-old cold case involving the death of a then 16-year-old girl. Authorities identified the girl, previously addressed as Jane Doe, as Deanna Lee Criswell of Spokane, Washington.
Criswell was found dead under an overpass in 1987 by a homeless man. Police determined that she had been shot five times. Even though they had the body, police were not able to identify the killer or the victim.
The case was closed for years but reopened in 2011 when discoveries in forensic science allowed police to determine previously unknown suspects or victims. That same year, police used DNA testing to determine that the killer was William Ross Knight, a convict who had died in a Tuscon, Arizona prison in 2005. He was serving a life sentence for armed robberies.
Police also started a facial reconstruction of the victim in 2011, hoping that it would help family or friends identify the victim.
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At the same time, Ellen and Donald Criswell, Deanna’s aunt and uncle, started searching for their niece, hoping to find her before Deanna’s mom died of terminal cancer. She said, “We thought would be very important for her to have some closure before she died.”
For a year, Criswell searched for Deanna as if she were still alive. When they ran out of options, they started to search for unidentified bodies.
Five weeks ago, they found the photo of the victim’s facial reconstruction. They knew it was Deanna as soon as they saw the photo. She said, “We contacted them and told them that we could identify her cause we felt certain it was her.”
Police say they knew Knight had sent Deanna a ticket to travel to Spokane. They met in Spokane after Knight had committed the crimes he was later jailed for.
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Tom Mooney, the crime scene unit supervisor, said, “I'm glad the family knows what happened to their daughter.”