The DNA Doe Project just solved their hardest case so far. Last week, we traveled to Ironton, Ohio to present at a press conference revealing the identity of Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, who until July 29, 2019, was known only as “the Belle in the Well.” This solve took our team over 10,000 hours of effort from more than 30 volunteers over 14 months. This resolution gives us renewed hope for every difficult case that the DNA Doe Project takes on, especially the trans Does for which we research and advocate.
The Belle In The Well was discovered in an Ohio cistern in April of 1981. Her clothing, personal items in her pockets, age estimation and facial approximations did not lead to her identification, and she went unidentified for 38 years. She was one of the first cases taken on by the DNA Doe Project, and by far the most complicated. Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, born in 1915, would have been 65 years old when she was placed in the cistern by as-yet-unknown perpetrators. While she was born near to where she was found, she had not lived there for some time and had only recently returned to the area before her death.
The Belle in the Well was the first unidentified person that forensic anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Murray entered into the NamUs database on November 25, 2009 as #UP6259. Our team had looked at her profile time and time again over the course of 14 months, trying to draw comparisons between potential identifications, and her identifying features and circumstances of recovery.
When an unidentified person is identified, or a missing person is located, their case is closed on NamUs and their profile is no longer public. At the very end of the press conference, Dr. Murray gave investigator Bill Nenni the privilege of closing #UP6259. It was a simple act that carried with it a flood of emotional release and hope for future Does. Bill had spent his entire career doing everything in his ability to identify Louise. His father was the Coroner who signed her original death certificate.
If a person searches NamUs for #UP6259 today, they find nothing. The Belle in the Well’s home on the internet is gone, but now she is known for who she truly was. We hope that those who knew her will remember her, and perhaps even have information that leads to the identification of whoever killed her.
The determination of the DNA Doe Project in finding the identity of unidentified persons, no matter who they are, is unfathomable. We know from our experience searching for Louise that when other methods have fallen short, the DNA Doe Project will never give up the search. Their dedication to all Does, gives us confidence that we can look forward to identifying trans Does and closing their NamUs profiles some day soon.
If you have ever taken a genealogical DNA test, please consider uploading your raw data to GEDmatch and opt-in to law enforcement matching. Even a distant cousin relationship could be the key to identifying a Doe.
During the live stream of the press conference, many viewers noted that the audio was difficult to hear. Mysterious WV has graciously provided an updated video of the full press conference with improved audio.
Additionally, you may view a PDF of the presentation slides, and a transcript of the forensic genealogy component of the presentation.
If anyone knows anything about the last whereabouts of Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, or any information on who is responsible for her death, please call the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office anonymous tip line at 740-532-3525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- DNA Doe Project Announcement
- Mysterious WV: Full video of press conference
- The Atlantic: She Was Found Strangled in a Well, and Now She Has a Name
- WOWK13: After years of rumors and mystery, investigators identify “Belle in the Well”
- Herald-Dispatch: Lawrence County officials say 38-year “Belle in the Well” mystery solved
- Ironton Tribune: ‘Belle in the Well’ Name Revealed