Sprawled out across 3,300 acres, Wayne Fitzgerrell state park is known as the “gateway to Southern Illinois’ biggest outdoor playground, a paradise for outdoor recreation for all ages.” The park, located about 90 minutes east of St. Louis and four hours south of Chicago, is popular for weekend getaways to hunt, fish, camp and hike.
On Jan. 27, 1993, this paradise park became a gigantic crime scene when a woman’s decapitated head was discovered. Twenty-four years later, the case remains unsolved.
January 1993 was a time of new beginnings across the country. America’s new president, Bill Clinton, the first Baby Boomer commander-in-chief, had just been sworn into office. Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” dominated the music charts, setting new sales records.
But for one woman, January 1993 meant the end — a gruesome, terrifying end.
Two little girls, ages 10 and 12, were running through Wayne Fitzgerrell state park when they stumbled upon a woman’s decapitated head, about one mile west of Interstate 57, according to the Evansville Courier.
The head was that of a white female, who authorities estimated was around 30 years of age.
Police used dogs and helicopters to comb through the densely wooded area for the rest of the woman’s body. The search came up empty.
The local coroner, Richard Garretson, tried using dental records to identify the woman, but that too proved unsuccessful. While he couldn’t identify her, according to the Courier, the coroner was able to draw some conclusions about the woman. She had reddish brown or strawberry blond hair which fell to her shoulders; her left ear had been pierced at some point; and her head couldn’t have been in the park for more than a couple of weeks because it wasn’t covered up and was lying in a location park visitors regularly frequent.
“It could have been decapitated in another area and thrown out,” Garretson said.
Garretson also told the newspaper the woman had undergone a drastic lifestyle change within the last few years of her life. He noted she had a few rotten teeth, which he said was in stark contrast to expensive dental work she clearly had done years earlier.
Investigators searched computer databases across the country, looking for reports of missing women, and decapitated bodies that had been discovered. There was never a match.
According to state police, the University of Illinois’ anthropology department later determined the woman was between 30 to 50 years of age. They also concluded the woman suffered from wryneck, resulting in a leftward tilt of the head. They also found a lesion on her skull, indicating the condition might have been caused by trauma to the head.