One of the saddest things that can happen to someone is to die without anyone knowing who you are, for your identity to be forgotten and your death to go unmourned by those who knew you. It is a sobering thought to know that your identity could cease to exist surely as you have, but this has happened on occasion in the annals of mysterious deaths of people who seem to have come from nowhere. Here we have the case of a woman who died under mysterious circumstances, who turned up without a name, identity, or even a face, and has gone down as one of the creepiest unsolved deaths of all time.
On the morning of July 15, 1982, a gravedigger named George Kise was at work at the Cedar Ridge Cemetery in Blairstown, New Jersey, when he came across something that would shock him to the core. There lying on a steep wooded bank leading down to a stream was a human body, that upon closer inspection turned out to be that of a young woman, partially unclothed, but that was about all Kise could surmise, as he was met with the stomach churning site of a face that had apparently been battered and smashed to the point that the face had been utterly ruined, totally erased. Authorities were immediately contacted, and so would begin the strange odyssey of one of the most famous and perplexing unsolved murders there is.
When police investigators arrived they took a look at the body and it was immediately apparent that they would not be able to identify it through the face alone, as it simply basically didn’t exist anymore, bludgeoned so violently that not even the eye color could be determined. The body itself, eerily intact compared to the horrors of the head, was found to be that of a young Caucasian woman, around 14 – 18 years old, standing 5’2″ to 5’4″ and weighing 90-100 lbs. Her hair was shoulder length and a light brown color, and she was dressed in a red v-neck t-shirt and a broomstick skirt with peacocks printed along the bottom, along with accessories in the form of a gold cross necklace with white beads that had become entangled in her hair, and two earrings in her left ear. Oddly she was wearing bright red nail polish, but only on her right hand for reasons unknown. The cause of death was thought to be the incredibly severe and nauseating beating she had received, which had literally caved in the skull, and of which Blairstown Police Lt. Eric Kranz, one of the first on the scene, would later say, “She was erased. Her assailant erased her. There was nothing left to her. Whoever did this did it with a vengeance.”
The body was taken to the Warren County Medical Examiner’s Office for a more in-depth examination, which faced trouble with its analysis since the body was estimated to have been lying out in that cemetery for several days prior to its discovery, possibly even longer as the heat and humidity made it hard to judge the rate of decay. Nevertheless, they were able to see that whoever it was had tried to fend off her attacker, as shown by bruises and trauma on her arms, but that she had not been sexually assaulted in any way, despite missing her undergarments. She was thought to have no drugs in her system and only faint traces of alcohol, and she had never given birth. She was also well-fed, seemingly very physically healthy, and it was not thought at the time that she had been homeless. However, for all of these details no one had a clue of who she was or how she had ended up dead out on that hill, and indeed we still don’t. Dental records turned up nothing, as did fingerprint records. She was, and still is, a specter.
With the discovery of this mysterious body in such a grim state there was immediately an investigation launched, with authorities going through several versions of facial reconstructions of what the woman may have looked like, which were widely distributed but produced no results. In the meantime the enigmatic nameless woman became known as Princess Doe, and tantalizing leads as to her identity came in. One of the more promising of these was a witness who came forward by the name of Latimer, who claimed that she had seen the woman just two days prior to her death, on July 13, as she was shopping with her young daughter at a supermarket right across the road from the cemetery. She was confident that it had been the victim, as she clearly remembered the distinctive skirt with the peacock pattern, and she would say of this:
I saw her. My daughter was with me. She was 6 years old then, and she said, ‘Oh, mommy, mommy, is that an eagle on her skirt?’ So I said, ‘No, that’s a peacock.’ I wanted to ask her where she got the skirt because it was so unique, it was pretty. But she sort of looked away, and there was a little kid walking past me with one of those little fake plastic shopping carts so that took my attention away, but that was my glimpse of her.
Police were so intrigued by this sighting that they actually had Latimer hypnotized in order to try and glean any more details, but it turned out to be a dead end, and Princess Doe’s identity and the circumstances of her death remained elusive. There would be dozens of leads like this that led nowhere, and it would serve to further make the case all the more baffling. A lot of speculation swirled as to who Princess Doe was, such as that she had been a transient or someone who had been on the run from someone, changing names and identities frequently and living off the radar, but there was no evidence for any of this. At one point it was strongly believed that Princess Doe was a missing teenager named Diane Genice Dye, who had disappeared on July 30, 1979, but at the time there was no concrete evidence for this and even the missing girl’s family denied it. DNA evidence in later years would prove that indeed Dye was in fact not Princess Doe.
Finding suspects in the murder was just as fraught with difficulty as uncovering the dead girl’s identity. One of the only promising leads that has ever come up as to the identity of the killer or killers was a man named Arthur Kinlaw, who ran a prostitution ring in Hunts Point, and who along with his wife and accomplice, Donna, had a deep criminal record spanning the United States all the way to Alaska covering a wide range of crimes. The Princess Doe connection came when in June of 1998 Donna Kinlaw was arrested in California for attempting welfare fraud with a fake name that happened to be the name of a former prostitute who had worked for them, and when she was taken in for questioning Donna would paint a grim picture of her husband indeed.
Donna claimed that her husband had murdered a total of four women, many of them prostitutes. One of these women was allegedly a girl known as “Linda,” who had refused to work for Arthur and paid for it by getting beaten to death with a baseball bat in 1984 and dumped in the East River. Another was a woman who had been paying to live in their Bellport home. The obese, 300-pound woman had apparently needed crutches to walk, and was killed by Arthur in the backyard, after which he had had concrete poured over her body to make a patio. The bodies of these two victims were found, although they were never identified. Another killing was allegedly that of a missing prostitute named Christine Kozma, who Donna said Arthur had shot to death in 1982, but the one that really piqued the curiosity of police was yet another woman Arthur had allegedly killed, who according to Donna was none other than Princess Doe. According to Donna, Arthur had brought in a new girl of around 18 years of age, who he later killed in the cemetery by beating her to death. However, the Kinlaws could not provide a name for this mysterious victim and there was no real way to connect them to Princess Doe, even though it seemed to fit and Arthur made little effort to conceal what he had done when confronted about it. One investigator, detective Stephen Speirs, would say:
Let’s put it this way, I can’t use the word confession. He made some admissions. I’ll put it in these terms: He claimed responsibility for her death. But I have no physical evidence to confirm that, and without the identity of Princess Doe, I have no way of connecting the dots so to speak, putting her in a place where he could have been or would have been at the same time. That’s the unfortunate thing right now. The key thing is to identify her. If we could identify her, then I can try to verify the information [Arthur Kinlaw] provided.
There are other theories, but again, I can’t base my facts on theories, I have to base my theories on facts. And I have really no strong facts that appear to say the Kinlaws are involved or not involved. It’s an open door and there have been other persons of interest prior to that, and there have been persons of interest since then. Again, I go back to that unfortunately we have no way of substantiating any of this information because no one is providing a name or identity—we don’t know who she is. At this point, there is no physical evidence to tie any of these people in to this crime.
Whether he had a hand in the killing of Princess Doe or not, Arthur Kinlaw was found guilty for the two deaths in which the bodies were found, and charged with two counts of second-degree murder. Donna got a reduced sentence for her involvement in Linda’s death due to her cooperation and information. Neither of them have ever officially been charged for the death of Princess Doe. Indeed, there has never been any evidence to tie anyone to it, and to this day not a single suspect has ever been arrested in relation to Princess Doe’s death.
In recent years the quest to identify Princess Doe has has had a boost with new forensic science and testing methods that were either in their infancy or simply didn’t exist at the time of her death. In 1999, her body was exhumed in order to extract DNA samples to be used with modern techniques, and there was found trace DNA evidence that could be from the killer, but it has so far failed to be conclusive or to solve the case. Another promising forensic technique being employed is studying isotopes contained within the victim’s hair, as well as the makeup of her teeth, which can give an amazing amount of details on a person’s life. These hair and tooth tests have brought new details to light, such as that she was definitely from the United States, probably from Arizona, that she had lived for seven to ten months in the Midwestern or Northeastern United States, as well as lived in Long Island New York at some point, and she had also spent a lot of time in the Southwest. However, while this could help narrow down where authorities should focus their efforts, it has done little to actually solve the case so far.
Another promising new development is the advancement of CT scans, which allow for more accurate composites of Princess Doe’s probable appearance in life. Up until now there has been a series of sketches made, each differing a little and making it hard to really know what she even looked like, which is essential for posters asking for someone who knew her to come forward. With modern technology, scientists have finally been able to make a scan of the skull and come up with what is believed to be the most accurate composite of her face yet. Indeed, the new composites have produced a lot of new leads, with several people coming forward claiming to have known who she was, but none of these have led to any concrete answers yet.
The case of Princess Doe has gone on to become one of the most puzzling cold cases there is, with no solid ideas of her identity, no suspects, and no concrete leads. The case has been featured in numerous books and television shows, such as Missing, and America’s Most Wanted, and is still the source of much speculation and debate. In the meantime, Princess Doe lies buried at the very same cemetery where her body was found, marked with a headstone that reads, “Princess Doe, Missing From Home, Dead Among Strangers, Remembered By All, Born ? – Found July 15, 1982.” Yet, although her case has not been solved and we don’t know who she was, Princess Doe has been nameless but not forgotten, and even all of these decades later there are those who doggedly continue the investigation. Lt. Eric Kranz, who is now retired, has never really given up hope that the case will one day be solved, and has pursued it in his own time, saying of his ongoing obsession with it:
There hasn’t been a day—not a day—that has gone by where I don’t work on this case. This case created a lot of disconcertion in my life, a lot of issues. I went against all the norms—the norms of ‘You know this is one of a million, you always find ’em. Forget about it, let it go. There’s gonna be another one tomorrow’—you know all that thinking, and I just felt that if you applied yourself, that if you just put yourself into this, you’d find her, and the more I did it and the more roadblocks I ran into, the more I dug in.
Who was Princess Doe? How did she end up out in that cemetery and what did she do to deserve such a brutal fate? It is sad to think that this woman had a life once, friends and family, but that she lost them all along with her name and even her face, to become a phantom nameless victim. She lies out there in that cemetery alone, unidentified, and unavenged, but not forgotten. Someday perhaps we will finally find out who she was, maybe discover her killer and bring them to justice. Perhaps someday someone can call her by her name again, but until then she is Princess Doe, and the only one who knows who she is or what happened on that terrible day is her.