Geneva Adams was a mother of 10 out for an uncharacteristic night on the town.
She danced at the Artesian Lounge with a handsome and charming younger man until it closed, then went to an after-hours club 40 miles east in East St. Louis. Her date said he dropped her off at a Crystal City, Missouri, doughnut shop in the very early morning hours of July 25, 1976.
She was never heard from again.
Six weeks later, a naked, decomposed body was found in a vacant lot in Washington Park and later buried without a name in a pauper’s grave in Fairview Heights. Investigators now want to find out if Adams is that Jane Doe.
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Assistant State’s Attorney Bernadette Schrempp filed a motion earlier this week requesting the exhumation of Jane Doe, who lies in Lot 77, Grave 1, Section B in Greenwood Cemetery in Fairview Heights. After the body is removed, a DNA sample will be taken and compared to a single tooth removed from Adams during a dental procedure and kept by one of her children.
“The goal is to return her to her family and that part of the mystery of what happened to Geneva,” said Herculaneum Chief Mark Tulgetske.
The discovery of a body in a brushy area off of St. Clair Avenue 42 years ago elicited only a single newspaper story in the now defunct East St. Louis Journal. The woman’s naked body was found on the Saturday before Labor Day — Sept. 4, 1976.
An unidentified man went to a gas station at 39th St. and St. Clair Avenue and told the station attendant to call the police because he found a body nearby, the news account stated. The man left the gas station before police arrived. Police immediately became suspicious of the man, who told the attendant that he found the body in a heavily wooded area on a steep embankment at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night.
Then Washington Police Lt. Ken Koski told the reporter that police wanted to talk to the man, but it isn’t clear whether he was ever located.
The Jane Doe was taken to Kassly Funeral Home in Fairview Heights. There was an autopsy the next day.
The inquest records noted the body appeared to have been left about three weeks earlier. The woman had false upper teeth and natural lower teeth with fillings. The autopsy notes also found the woman was white, with auburn hair and was between 35 and 55 years old. A cause of death could not be determined.
But in that 1976 news story, St. Clair County Deputy Coroner John Kassly said a state pathologist’s X-ray report didn’t show any evidence of gunshot wounds or “other marks of violence.”
Kassly also told the reporter that there no clothing or jewelry were found near the body. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail with a rubber band with another around her left wrist, which was “apparently was a spare in the event the other band broke.”
After checking local missing persons without a match, the body was placed in a metal box called a “Ziegler Case” and buried in Greenwood Cemetery where she lay in an unmarked grave for more than 40 years.
In 2014, Illinois State Police Sgt. Abigail Keller was asked by then St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone to help identify Jane Doe. Keller, according to the court filing, used the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database and found a woman missing from Herculaneum, Missouri, — Geneva Adams.
Adams, the mother of 10, worked in factories and nursing homes. Her first husband and father of her children died of cancer in 1969. Her second marriage ended in divorce. The fateful date with the young male dancing partner, Jimmie Lee Mills, who police call a “person of interest” began at a Herculaneum bar called The Artesian Lounge the night of July 24, 1976.
Today, there’s only a grass plot with an adjoining fishing pond where The Artesian used to stand. But in the day, The Artesian brought in jazz and soul groups like Fontella Bass who sang “Rescue Me” and Tina Turner.
But by the night Adams and Mills, then a 31-year-old school bus mechanic, danced on the once-packed floor, the bar had a roadhouse vibe.
“It fell into disrepair. It would get pretty rowdy out here,” Tulgetske said.
Mills already served a year in prison for the attempted rape of a 20-year-old woman. On the night he met with Adams, he was on bail, accused of raping a 16-year-old hitchhiker.
In 2003, Mills told reporters that after The Artesian closed for the night he took Adams in his Cadillac to an East St. Louis nightclub, then dropped her off in Missouri at a Crystal City doughnut shop just before dawn.
None of the investigators could remember the name of the East St. Louis nightclub, but East St. Louis in the 1980s had a lively nightlife and was an after-hours destination for partiers.
Mills’ statement put Adams, then 53, in the area where Jane Doe was found. Adams also had upper dentures and auburn hair, like the remains found on that wooded hillside.
“Sure, there’s a chance it isn’t her, but from looking at the reports were are pretty confident we are on the right track,” Tulgetske said.
Mills’ name came up again nine years later when a young woman who lived in the same boarding house disappeared.
Cynthia Horan, 21, was separated from her husband, living in south St. Louis. She worked as a secretary for the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney’s office. She shared a kitchen and bathroom with a man who lived in the adjoining apartment. That man was Jimmie Lee Mills.
On July 18, 1985, a neighbor heard screams coming from Mills’ apartment.
In 2011, Horan’s remains were identified. Hikers found her bones in 1988 in Jefferson County, Missouir, three years after she disappeared. The bones had initially been identified as Julie Adams of University City, Missouri, but DNA testing revealed they belonged to Horan.
Former Herculaneum Police Chief Chris Pigg said he investigated the Horan case. When reached by phone on Thursday, Pigg said evidence found in Mills’ room at the St. Louis boarding house he and Horan shared is missing from the case. Pigg thought the evidence included duct tape and hair.
Mills is now 76 years old. He’s serving a 10-year prison sentence for possession of a firearm at Butner Federal Correction Institution in North Carolina.
He pleaded with a compassionate release because his wife was sick. The judge did not relent. She later died.
He’s scheduled for release on Aug. 12, 2019.
As for Mills being involved in crimes beyond Adams and Horan, Pigg said, “Absolutely, the potential is there for more.”
On Tuesday, Associate Judge Julie Katz will decide whether Jane Doe’s grave will be exhumed, possibly giving the family some peace and maybe leading to the capture of a murderer who has escaped justice for decades.
If Geneva Adams had survived that night, she would now be 95 years old. Her children are all grown. Some live in the area and some have moved away.
“Identifying her will bring us one step closer,” Tulgetske said. “But it’s just another pebble on the pile.”