In 1972, Paulette Jaster graduated high school in Davison, MI, a town close to Flint. She had been, by all accounts, a popular girl, a gifted basketball player, and an accomplished enough student to attract the attention of the National Merit folks. The summer after she graduated, she began to withdraw. She dropped out of Central Michigan after a single semester, got in legal trouble over a verbal confrontation at a restaurant over a matter nobody remembers, and brought herself once again to the attention of police when she began reporting that a man named Henry in California was threatening her life. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic in Ypsilanti, but signed herself out of custody after a couple of months. She headed to Florida in late 1978 after a fight with her father, and returned home in good spirits after 4 months, hitchhiking forth and back.
Her family speculate that when she left them again in 1979, she was concerned that she might be returned to a psych ward. By now, she had a boyfriend, with whom she was into pot and general wildness. He's said in at least one account to have traveled with her, but there are no details. The last person in her family to see her was a sister, who saw her headed off toward I-69 with a military-style duffel on her shoulder. Her family would later learn that she'd managed to get to Mesa, AZ. She had a job in a Walgreen's diner in January of 1980, and another one at a smorgasbord restaurant in February, the family learned much later; those were the last two times she used her Social Security number, and the last confirmed notices of her whereabouts the family would ever have.
In a 2006 article, her father, still alive, though her mother had passed away, believed that she was deceased, but thought that perhaps she'd hung on as late as 1989, when one of her sisters, Pam Atkinson (with whom she'd lived for a while after dropping out of college) got a strange call at the church that she worked in as a secretary that she believes might have been from Paulette. In searching for her, her family was contacted by a person or people in Sarasota, FL who believed that they may have seen her there. Her former boyfriend, after having lived for many years himself in Arizona, moved back to Michigan in 1999, and was of the opinion that she might still be alive, and that she'd clung to her outlaw ways longer than he had.
One of the unidentified cases that has received a lot of attention is that of 'Buckskin Girl,' who was discovered in a ditch in Newtown, OH, near Dayton, on April 25, 1981, by a motorist. He saw clothing in a ditch beside Greenlee Road, and when he slowed down to get a look, realized that there was a body there. He called authorities. Investigating the site, they estimated that the Jane Doe had been there for a couple of days. She'd been beaten and asphyxiated. There was no footwear, but she was wearing a distinctive hand-made deerskin tunic, which gave her her name in the web sleuthing community.
That, her distinctive sweater and the fact that she was recovered in time to make her identifiable from morgue photos, make her a tantalizing prospect for identification.
Buckskin Girl's NamUs profile shows that she had brown hair with red highlights, which seems to match up with at least one of the photos of Paulette. The height and weight are of the same range. Paulette would have been at that time at the upper edge of the age range for Buckskin Girl, who was estimated between 18 and 26 years. Paulette Jaster, like Buckskin Girl, appears to have had light brown/hazel eyes.
There's a lot of online speculation about Buckskin Girl. Many focus on her Native American dress, wondering if she were part of a commune, or someone who was from the Midwest who might have been frequenting the reservations due to an interest in Native American culture. Buckskin Girl's fringed tunic, though, appears Navaho, which would have placed her in New Mexico/Arizona, where such handcrafts would be more plentiful. Had she purchased her tunic in a boutique, it likely would have come with a tag, one would think. There was a purple poly liner in the tunic, but no tag. In general pattern, it's a feminine version of this vintage piece, presently offered on Etsy.
From the front, Paulette certainly looks similar to Buckskin Girl. The photos of Paulette that I can find online make it hard to tell whether her nose in profile resembles that of our unidentified. One compelling clue to Buckskin Girl's identity is that her ears are unpierced. Whether that was true of Paulette at the time she went missing, I can't find on the web, but in the first of the grouped images of Paulette above, she's wearing a necklace but doesn't appear to have an earring in her left ear, which is visible because she has her head cocked to that side. In most cases, body marks help make identifications, but for a young woman of this age not to have any ear piercings at all is rare enough that it ought to help with identification.
These reconstructions of what Buckskin Girl might have looked like in life were created by the redoubtable poster CarlK at WebSleuths:
On the other hand, Buckskin Girl was found without any jewelry at all, though it's mentioned as part of Paulette's profile that she was 'creative' and particularly liked unusual jewelry (as for example the necklace in the first photo of the Jaster collection above). There's another reason to believe that Jaster might at least have been found with a ring, which you will encounter below.
Imagine that Paulette, with her diagnosed schizophrenia, had managed only those two short stints of employment in Mesa in early 1980, or have wandered away to under-the-counter employment in Mesa's orange groves, or something similar. By the time spring rolled around, she might have been thinking it was a good time to touch base with her family back home in Michigan, just as she had after her previous escape to Florida. Had she hitchhiked I-70 from Utah, she would have intersected I-75 right about where Buckskin Girl was discovered. I-75 would have taken her north to the Detroit area. Perhaps her driver decided that he'd rather not let her go, and killed her. Or perhaps she'd been let out safely and met her end while trying to catch a ride north. (Pin A represents where Buckskin Girl's body was recovered.) In any case, Buckskin Girl appeared not to have been sexually assaulted.
Granted, it might have made more sense for her to take I-69, recapitulating the route she is supposed to have taken out of town, but perhaps her ride convinced her to go further east to avoid the beltline around Indianapolis.
So, this is all very circumstantial, but it's precluded by the NamUs database itself. Nowhere is there listed in the autopsy report a scar at the crown of the head, such as Paulette Jaster's family reported her having by way of a distinguishing mark, although there are notations describing scars on Buckskin Girl's wrists and a birthmark and moles on her person. Moreover, Paulette Jaster is specifically excluded among the 90 missing persons that have been compared with Buckskin Girl. The problem is, the database doesn't specify on what basis those exclusions were made. It seems that at a couple of points, Paulette's family were asked to give blood samples that would permit DNA comparison. Oddly , a surviving sister was asked to provide another sample in 2009 in response to a Jane Doe recovered beside a farmer's field near Blue Earth, MN, near I-90 in 1980 who was exhumed from her pauper's grave for DNA analysis. That sister was then again asked to provide a fresh DNA sample again in 2011 for another exclusion (same link). It certainly makes one wonder how thorough a job these genetic profilers have done in this particular instance.
It could be that Paulette was excluded by virtue of dental records in the days before DNA testing became more widespread and accurate, but NamUs provides no indication of just exactly how specific exclusions were accomplished, at least on its publicly viewable website, and I haven't learned how to read the dental charts that accompany these records. One imagines that a mapping of dental work, in cases where that's up-to-date with an unidentified, would produce an immediate hit that could then be researched more thoroughly. In my hypothetical case, I'm likely to have made any number of false inferences, and no harm done; but if an exclusion is made based on a false inference, it could lead to irrevocable harm to surviving family and friends. That Paulette's family has been asked on several occasions to submit samples certainly doesn't inspire confidence.
In Paulette's case, what would be useful is a terminus ad quem for her time in Mesa. Paulette's sister, Peggy Sperlich, (who participates in discussions regarding her sister at WebSleuths and possibly other locations, and who seems very gracious) has remained in contact with law enforcement in Mesa, who have been helpful. In October of 2008, she travelled to Mesa at the initiation of Detective Margie Quihuiz, who hoped that the visit would jog memories among locals who might recall her. It was a now-retired Michigan State Police investigator (Sgt. Daniel Bohnett) who first discovered the records of Paulette's work there at Walgreen's WAG diner and then Paul Perry's Smorgee Table, both of which have been supplanted. Perry's daughter Paula Perry recalled working with Paulette, and stated that she came to work one day with what she said was an engagement ring, and the next she was gone. Her former boyfriend from Michigan says that he lived in Tucson for the first 17 years he lived in Arizona (1977-1999), before later moving to Mesa and Chandler, and that he never had contact with her during the time she was in the state, but he also (rather strangely) volunteers that he believes she might have gone to Mexico, for reasons that he doesn't express. According to him, she was driven away by her family (not getting along with her father), just as he was by his in his wild, romantic youth. Sperlich suspects he may know more about her sister, though Tucson is a couple hours away. For his part, he maintains they never were engaged, though he speaks as if he were still carrying a torch for her. Another old friend who was at one time best friends with Paulette, and who was a classmate from kindergarten till when she dropped out of college, never saw her in Arizona, though she was living in nearby Scottsdale at the time Paulette was in Mesa. An commenter here opines that Paulette may have gone by the aliases Paulette Susan Johnson or Paulette Susan Rubin when she was in Mesa, though why she would adopt such aliases when her family were so unlikely to find her is an open question, and the source is unlinked. Here's a timeline:
JAN. 9, 1954: Paulette Susan Jaster is born the fourth of seven children to Edwin and Caroline Jaster at Wayne County's Holy Cross Hospital.
1958: The Jasters move from the Detroit area to Davison.
June 15, 1971: Paulette is popular and does well at Davison High School. She is named to the National Honor Society.
AUG. 27, 1972: Paulette leaves home for Central Michigan University but drops out after one semester.
1974: Family members say Paulette shows signs of emotional problems and drug use. She breaks up with her high school sweetheart and quits a job at Chevrolet in Flint.
JUNE 22, 1977: Paulette tells Davison police that people are trying to kill her. Police petition the state, saying Paulette is unable to understand her need for treatment or care for herself.
JULY 7, 1977: Paulette is found mentally ill by Genesee County Probate Court. She is sent to Ypsilanti State Hospital but signs herself out less than two months later.
DEC. 23, 1978: At home off and on, Paulette leaves town for Florida after a fight with her father.
MARCH 13, 1979: Paulette's mother files a missing person report after Paulette remains out of touch, apparently in Florida.
APRIL 28, 1979: Appearing refreshed and happy, Paulette returns home for her mother's birthday.
MAY 12, 1979: Paulette is last seen by one of her sisters as she leaves town without saying goodbye – carrying a green dufflebag and walking toward I-69 in Davison.
1980: Still out of touch with her family, Paulette earns $319 while working at a lunch counter at Walgreens and restaurant in Mesa, Ariz., according to Social Security records.
1983: Following a tip that her daughter is back in Florida and could be in trouble, Caroline Jaster finds several people who say they believe they saw Paulette a few months before.
DEC. 23, 1989: A sister receives a strange telephone call from a woman she believes is Paulette, but the woman refuses to stay on the line.
OCTOBER 1996: Michigan State Police receive no new leads in response to a new nationwide bulletin.
MAY 1, 2005: Paulette's mother dies without ever having found her daughter. Her estate remains unsettled, partly because of Paulette's status as a missing person.
As is plain from the instances in which her family were requested to supply blood and DNA samples, law enforcement personnel in the Midwest have assumed that she's most likely to have been discovered in the general region of her family homestead, though her footloose life argues that's not necessarily a valid assumption. Without reliable time and space parameters, cases like hers tend to become black holes of speculation, vacuuming up suppositions. Given the time frame, it's certainly not ridiculous to want to compare her with the Blue Earth Jane Doe, who remains a Jane Doe to this day, though her murderer has confessed to her killing, but it is rather counter-intuitive to suspect that someone wanting to travel from Arizona to Davison, MI would have gotten to I-90 that far west, since it bends northwards on either side of the Great Lakes. We all carry suppositions that lead us to potential solutions of these puzzles that may in fact mesmerize us away from the truth.
Paulette's advertised interest in unusual jewelry has linked her in sleuths' imaginations with another Jane Doe who was discovered some 16 miles west of Harrisburg, PA. A rock collector (who was probably not seeking turquoise set in silver) found her in skeletal condition on June 20, 1979, and investigators estimate that she'd been tossed over the eastbound embankment at least a few months before, which puts her outside the time-frame for Paulette, particularly as Paulette is now confirmed to have been the person working under her Social Security number in Mesa. The site of her dumping was Highway 322 in Pennsylvania, amidst the spaghetti of interstates between I-70 and I-80:
She's provisionally known as Argyle Jane Doe for the socks that she last wore, but in her case there also was a plethora of jewelry identified as of Navaho or Zuni origin, which would likely have placed her in Arizona or New Mexico before her fateful final trip. The location is a bit off the beaten track for a trucker, and whoever dumped her took some care to find a location that would conceal her well. The condition of the body didn't permit discovery of the manner of her death, but from the variety of jewelry she had on her person, it's clear that robbery wasn't the motive.
While the focus of forums is rightly first the identification of unknown victims, there is inevitably also considerable speculation about possible predators, particularly regarding serial murderers known to have been committing homicides upon young female hitchhikers during the time period in which the unidentified are thought to have been killed. In the cases of Buckskin Girl and Argyle Jane Doe, we can speclate that they both fell victim to long-distance travelers whose routes took them east and west along the major interstates en route to their destinations. Beyond that, we are not intellectually licensed to go, unless there's a distinguishing MO that seems to link cases, particularly in the absence of any DNA that might link individuals to particular crimes. In cases prior to the generalized use of DNA evidence, particularly when victims have been exposed to the elements for long periods prior to discovery, it's asking too much to expect that law enforcement would have, for example, tried to extract and maintain skin samples that might be located beneath victims' nails for future testing. Then, too, the sheer numbers of homicidal weirdos operating at any one time creates a protective ecological niche of predatory semi-anonymity, insofar as the list of captured and catalogued suspects creates confusion. Add to that the especially weird captured suspects who want to claim great numbers of victims, and you have licence for reams of unprofitable speculation that simply overwhelms case workers who are supplied with innumerable badly founded hunches from would-be savants. It's tempting to say that there could be a connection between the murder of Buckskin Girl and Argyle Jane Doe—maybe a predator whose lizardy brainstem lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees a slightly-built young caucasian woman dressed in Native American togs or jewelry—but there's simply not enough information to go on, and there are differences in the degree of care involved in choosing the dumping sites, the presence or absence of jewelry, the presence or absence of shoes. There's simply no way to link two such instances in any logical way, except by categorics and hunches. Hell, even people who believe they may have survived encounters with homicidal maniacs can't be sure after the passage of time that their recollections or hunches are correct.
Just as child abusers find ways to insinuate themselves into the precincts of children, a small sub-category of long-distance truck drivers reflect that their paying gig offers up opportunities for them to pursue their peculiar interests. The FBI is making a study of the connection. Human beings are naturally entrepreneurial, no matter how screwed up they may be. I've no doubt that there are strangely wired latter-day Kevorkians who are busily exploiting the opportunities that assisted suicide and death with dignity legislation is opening for them.
Just as assuredly, there are plenty of weirdos in the online communities that contemplate these matters. I don't know what it says about me that I find such mysteries so compelling, though I'm sure that it has to do with my lifelong love of story. Someone's on his or her last journey, and doesn't know, though their fellow traveller assuredly does by now. The day is bright, or cloudy, or dim and rainy, as the case may be, or it's nighttime and the stars are visible or not, or the moon is up or not, and they are passing through some particular landscape that someone finds evocative, for it is almost assuredly what someone calls home. Crickets are chirping and lightning bugs semaphoring their availability, maybe, or maybe coyotes are skulking and yipping to one another, and the whole of creation is crying look at me, but one is engrossed in Words with Friends on the mobile, or thinking about having a shower after getting off the road, and insignificant homes and businesses are slipping by on the road, and they're insignificant because we're assuming that we're going to see many more like them as time unfolds, because one's ending seems so far off, because there are so many more things that one has to do before the story ends, unaware that someone else may have designs on when and where and how it ends. And that person, too, assumes, for the sake of present argument, that his own story will continue no matter what happens soon, and that he'll . . . keep on truckin', babe, no matter what the next hours bring. And, really, everyone's story, and all the stories that are woven together with them by propinquity of time and space and blood and love seem so darned insignificant next to his own that it's all gossamer to the knife of his sick desire. Who will there be to contradict his version?
Notice, consider, inquire, counsel, help and protect. Gather it all together. There is already too much lost, too much sorrow.
Leave nothing important unsaid or undone.
UPDATE: Image comparison by Enoch: