On Monday afternoon, a backhoe will pass through Greenwood Cemetery’s brick gates to disinter the body of a woman buried there 42 years ago without a name or the knowledge of those who may have loved her.
St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye confirmed the exhumation of Jane Doe’s grave would occur on Monday.
“You want to solve any Jane Doe cases you have, to give the family some closure,” Dye said.
Missouri and Illinois investigators will work together to determine whether the body in that grave belongs to Geneva Adams, the mother of 10, who disappeared after a night of dancing with handsome and charming man, who police now call a person of interest in her disappearance. The man’s name is Jimmie Lee Mills.
A single tooth was given to police by one of her daughters. DNA was taken and compared to two of Adam’s children. The results showed the tooth belonged to Adams. Investigators now had DNA that could test against DNA taken from the Jane Doe buried in Fairview Heights.
After the body is taken to the grave, it will be taken to a site where Dr. Lindsey Tremmell, of the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office can extract some DNA from the body to compare to the tooth, Dye said. If there’s a match, the body can be turned over to Adams’ family. If there’s not, the DNA will be placed into a database to compare to other missing persons, Dye said.
It was July 24, 1976 when Adams went dancing at the Artesian Lounge in Herculaneum, Mo. She danced with Mills, then a school bus mechanic, at the bar until it closed, then Mills said they went to an after-hours club 40 miles east in East St. Louis. Mills dropped Adams off at a Crystal City Missouri doughnut shop about 4 a.m.
Her family never heard from her again.
Six weeks later, a man walked into a Washington Park gas station and told the attendant that he found a body and asked him to call the police. It was a Saturday night about 11 p.m., according to the newspaper accounts. The body was on a heavily wooded embankment, the man said.
The attendant called the police, but the man who said he found the body had already left.
A search of the hillside turned up the body of a naked and decomposing woman who was between 35 and 55 years old, with auburn hair. The unidentified woman had dentures on the top. Adams, 53, had auburn hair and a top set of dentures.
The forensic pathologist said the body had been in the woods for between four and six weeks, making the placement there correlate to Adams disappearance.
Mills, Adams companion that night, is a person of interest in another murder. Cynthia Horan, a secretary for the St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, went missing in 1985. Remains found by hikers in Jefferson County, Missouri were later revealed to be Horan’s.
Horan and Mills both lived in the same boarding house. Another boarder said she heard screams coming from Mills apartment the night of July 18, 1985.
Mills, 76, is currently serving time in federal prison, but he’s scheduled to be released on Aug. 12, 2019.
As for Mills being involved in crimes beyond Adams and Horan, former Herculaneum Police Chief Chris Pigg said, “Absolutely, the potential is there for more.”
It’s the first exhumation Coroner Dye, a former Illinois State Police detective, has overseen since he’s became coroner two years ago. And he wants to give a name to that woman buried in a metal box with no headstone.
“We have a strong DNA sample to compare to our Jane Doe, so if it is Ms. Adams in that grave, we should be able to find out,” Dye said..
Not knowing what happened to their mother has been difficult for Adams’ children and relatives, said Jim Hearren, a great nephew of Adam., but it produced a kind of “new normal” for the family.
“The kids get accustomed, well as best as you can in this situation, to not knowing and you begin to accept that you might never know,” Hearren said.
There were other leads. that resulted only in dashed hopes. But this time feels different, Hearren said.
“This this lead is the best the family has ever had,” Hearren said. “There hasn’t been anything that has given them this much hope in the whole 42 years.”