The backhoe was supposed to solve a mystery when it dug on Monday into the soft ground of Greenwood Cemetery, but instead, it led to more uncertainty.
The mystery was relatively simple: Did Geneva Adams, a 53-year-old Herculaneum, Missouri, mother of 10 who disappeared 42 years ago, lie buried in a device called a Zeigler Box somewhere in the sprawling private cemetery in Fairview Heights? Several sets of records had been needed to locate her supposed grave that had only been marked “Jane Doe” or “unidentified remains.”
While St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye and a number of coroner’s office personnel and police observed, the backhoe dug up earth down about four feet in several locations from a central starting point. But nothing was found except a coffin handle that was probably unrelated to the search.
“This was the right plot. She is supposed to be there,” said Herculaneum, Mo., Police Chief Mark Telgetske, one of the leaders of the lengthy investigation to find out what happened to Adams. She vanished after an uncharacteristic night out on the town that started near her home town in Missouri and is believed to have ended up in a dance hall in East St. Louis.
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According to family members, Adams met a much younger man, Jimmie Lee Mills, now close to finishing a sentence in a Missouri prison for an unrelated crime.
But Telgetske has said he believes Mills is a person of interest regarding the ultimate fate that befell Adams, whose body was found in Washington Park.
Information concerning the discovery of Jane Doe remains set about six weeks after Adams vanished, and the availability of a possible DNA link to family members, fueled the efforts by Dye and others that resulted in a judge’s order to exhume the suspected grave site.
Mills is a person of interest in another unsolved case — the killing of Cynthia Horan in 1985. Horan was a secretary for the St. Louis prosecuting attorney’s office and had occupied a boarding house-type residence in Missouri at the same time as Mills. Boarders were expected to share a kitchen and bathroom, which could have brought Mills into contact with Horan. Mills is now 76 and is scheduled to be released in August.
Coroner Dye said records from the Kassley Funeral Home that buried the Jane Doe thought to be Adams in July 1976 were checked, as were coroner’s records and ledgers held by the family that operates the old cemetery.
But on Monday just earth and the lone casket handle turned up. Officials got down into the four-foot hole unearthed by the backhoe and used narrow metal rods to push into the ground several feet deeper to see if anything laid below. They found nothing.
Police Chief Telgetske said officials had determined several weeks earlier that something metal laid below ground in the plot associated with the records. However, he said, these turned out to be brass markers just a few inches under the surface that were moved out of the way before the digging began.
What investigators hoped would be Adams’ remains were found in Washington Park about six weeks after she disappeared. Six weeks after Adams disappeared a man walked into a Washington Park gas station and said he just found a body in a steep, brushy area not far away. The man did not wait for police and could not later be found.
The badly decomposed remains of a woman estimated to be between 35 and 55 years old with auburn hair and full upper dentures was located. The body was naked.
The age, color of hair and dentures fit Adams’ description, according to family members.
Telgetske said the investigation would continue but was uncertain whether the search would include other plots at the metro-east cemetery.