30 Years Later, Female Found in Ditch Has a Name

Margaret Ann Sniegowski Jr., 17, IDed thanks to DNA evidence; now it's a homicide investigation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2022 10:10 AM CDT
'Jane Doe' Found in Indiana Ditch in '92 Now Has a Name
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/knowlt)

(Newser) – For three decades, the identity of a body found along an Indiana highway remained unknown, a cold case that stumped Boone County officials. Now, a name to that body, thanks to a curious sister and advances in genetic genealogy. FOX59 details the case of 17-year-old Ohioan Margaret Ann Sniegowski Jr., which began on May 3, 1992, when firefighter and farmer Don Lawson was working in his field off the I-65 and found a woman's body facedown in a water-filled drainage ditch. The woman was described in local media as being between 20 and 40 years old, with a tattoo of the word "Mom" on her right arm, but authorities weren't able to figure out who she was, and the body was buried in a pauper's grave not far from the Boone County Sheriff's Office, marked "Unidentified Female."

Despite efforts over the years to identify the body—including twice exhuming it and reconstructing the victim's face in the hopes someone would recognize her—officials kept coming to dead ends, and the case stayed a cold one. "It's always haunted me," Sheriff Mike Nielsen told the Indianapolis Star after the second exhumation. The case remained unsolved—until 2021, when the Othram genomics firm was able to create a DNA profile using DNA retrieved from the victim's bones and upload it to a genealogy database, per WTHR. Meanwhile, one of Sniegowski's sisters had submitted her DNA to the biotech company 23andMe because she'd been wondering about her family tree, Sniegowski's brother Leonard Sniegowski tells the Indianapolis Star. By November, thanks to the DNA, authorities had closed in on a possible ID, and two of Sniegowski's siblings were contacted.

Her identity was confirmed in January, and the case has now shifted to a homicide investigation. Officials say they think she was strangled, though it's been hard to confirm the cause of death. Leonard Sniegowski says his family never had a funeral for his sister, in the hopes they'd one day find her. "We're not quitters," he says, adding he's not sure how his sister, the youngest of eight children, ended up in Indiana from Toledo. "I travel all over the world now and I always thought maybe I would run into [her]," he says. Lawson, the man who discovered Margaret's body, is relieved that there's finally some closure. "Now I know who Jane Doe is," he says, per FOX59. "She’s not just someone I found. She's someone's family member." Anyone with information on Margaret Sniegowski is asked to call the Boone County Sheriff's Office at 765-482-1412. (Read more cold cases stories.)

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