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Episode 3 of Suitcase Jane Doe is now available on Crawlspace Podcast. We interview Buck Plank, the man who found SJD in July of 1995. He takes us through all the gritty details and presents his carnival theory. Although we're prohibited from going into too much detail, we also go through an exciting new lead for a suspect in the SJD case. Listen on your favorite podcast platform, or watch on Youtube below. Additionally, check out the documentary footage of my interview with Buck.
Last week, I got a call from a mysterious number. A gruff male voice answered, "Buck Plank here...". Turns out a friend of Buck's found my note at the trout hatchery and delivered it to him. He agreed to be interviewed. On Saturday, my cameraman, Mike Hicks, and I drove down to the hatchery and saw this electrician's van parked along the shoulder of the desolate Ravine Road.
Buck slid out of the van and quickly said he didn't want to be photographed. As a documentary filmmaker, this gave me a moment of pause. But, Buck has a good reason: For many years, he worked as a kind of litter patrolman in Valley Creek and was once responsible for slapping a $65k fine on some illegal dumper. Needless to say, Buck is a man with "many enemies".
We talked for a good half an hour and he provided many more details about the discovery of the suitcase. One detail that Buck seemed to be fixated on is that the suitcase was wrapped in industrial grade Romex wire.
Though Buck is an electrician, he did not recognize the model of wire but said the serial number and manufacturer would be printed on the rubber casing. This brings me to Buck's theory....
In July, 1995, there was a carnival right up the road at the old Downingtown Farmer's Market. Carnivals have a reputation of being manned by transients. Often, carnivals would employ undocumented people or those with criminal records as well. Buck theory is that perhaps Suitcase Jane Doe was a worker at this carnival. Perhaps her killer was a carnie as well.
The details seem to fit this theory. Buck said the industrial Romex wire might have been used to string lights at a carnival. The trash bags were industrial grade as well— something you might find on hand at a carnival as well. Lastly, the torso was found in a garment bag and suitcase, both items a person leading a transient lifestyle might have on hand.
Then, get this... the carnival moved to Bucks County where the legs were eventually found.
Buck said by the time the police started to take his carnival theory seriously, they deemed it "too late" to investigate. What?! Well, I don't think it's too late. I'm going to track down this carnival.
Stay tuned for Episode 2 of Suitcase Jane Doe coming February 14.
Episode 3 will contain the full interview with Buck as well as accompanying documentary footage.
I received a call from Buck's friend, John, today who suggested I check out the trout hatchery where Buck used to work. It turns out the hatchery is less than a mile away from the tunnels. Join us on our hunt! Stay tuned for episode 2 of "Suitcase Jane Doe" on Crawlspace Podcast.
Together with Tim Pilleri and Lance Reenstierna from Crawlspace Media, we've put together the first episode of a podcast on Suitcase Jane Doe.
This will be an ongoing series with some accompanying documentary footage. Listen, comment, stay tuned for more!
Today, I took a trip to the Chester County library. Research-wise, I have been relegated to generic Google and less-than-holy Tor browser searches for information on Suitcase Jane Doe (SJD). But, because of the lack of information available online, I decided to try it the old-fashioned way. A kindly librarian assisted me in scouring digital archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer and some microfilm of The Daily Local News (small circulation newspaper for Chester Co). It yielded little new information, but provided me names of individuals who were involved with the investigation, including Bucks Co. DA, forensic specialists, and the hospital in which the autopsy was conducted on the torso. These articles are available to view here.
Here are a few things of note:
On Tuesday, July 11, 1995, a fisherman casting into the Valley Creek, just outside of the Twin Tunnels in Downingtown (Chester County, PA) discovered a green trash bag on the banks of the creek. Inside the trash bag he found a maroon suitcase bound with wire and tape. Inside the suitcase were bed sheets, a quilt, some clothing and a quilt/garment bag. Enclosed in the bag were the head and torso of a woman.
Pennsylvania State Police found that while there was clothing inside of the suitcase, the woman was nude except for a blood-stained bra. There was nothing to help identify her, no purse, paperwork or license. She had no tattoos or distinctive scars. Her face had decomposed to the point where her features were unrecognizable.
Her legs were missing. Authorities searched the area but no other body parts were found.
The suitcase was leather-grained vinyl with wheels on the bottom. The quilt was a modern pattern of green, black and light blue. Both the quilt and suitcase were mass-produced and possibly sold by K-Mart.
An autopsy revealed that the woman had likely been killed 3 to 7 days prior to being found. Cause of death was inconclusive. There was no indication of strangulation or sexual assault. She had a bruised right eye and two small bruises on her back, possibly indicating her trying to flee her killer but no indication of a fierce struggle. She had no drugs in her system and her blood-alcohol level indicated a possible consumption of one, maybe two drinks prior to her death.
January 28, 1996 - just over six months later and roughly 50 miles away....
...leg bones and a foot were discovered in Core Creek Park in Bucks County. They were found in a wooded area near the Duchess Lane picnic area between Park Road and Bridgetown Pike. The bones appeared to be from either a child or a small adult. The Bucks Couny Coroner estimated that they belonged to someone who had been deceased for about six months.
DNA testing was conducted to determine if the legs were those belonging to the torso found in Valley Creek but the tests were inconclusive, however, three forensic pathologists, after extensive examination of the body parts, concluded that the body parts came from the same person. Their conclusions were based on similar cuts between the torso and the legs and that the right leg fit perfectly into the torso. The legs were later cremated, as was the normal routine at the time due to storage limitations.
Found nearby was a green trash bag filled with clothing that may have belonged to the victim. Among the clothes were:
a blue, black and pink sweater, size 10, Jet Set brand with Mickey & Minnie Mouse on it;
a denim jacket with a red border at the bottom, Bonjour brand;
a small black jumper.
Found away from the trash bag was a white blouse with black and gold buttons.
The sizes of the clothing were consistent with those found with the torso.
This unidentified woman was featured twice on America's Most Wanted, who dubbed her "Suitcase Jane Doe" - not to be confused with "Beth Doe" found in Carbon County in 1976. At this time, there is nothing to indicate that the two cases are related.
In at least one publication, one of the legs was described as being "skinned". This site's owner was told by an investigator that the absence of skin/soft tissue was due to decomposition and/or animal activity, not from being skinned.
The location of the torso has been publicized in various publications over the years as being found in the Brandywine River. She was actually found in Valley Creek, just outside the tunnel.