KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities in Louisiana have identified the body of a young woman found in the woods of Bossier Parish in 1981 as 17-year-old Carol Ann Cole of Kalamazoo.
“It has been a long 34 years, one month and five days waiting for the Cole family. But I’m here to tell you the waiting is over and Carol Ann is coming home,” Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington said during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Cole disappeared in late 1980. Her father told 24 Hour News 8 last month that his ex-wife left the state with his two teenage daughters and headed south. Cole was apparently taken to a home for girls in Louisiana.
On Jan. 28, 1981, hunters discovered the body of a young, unidentified woman in a wooded area off the side of a logging road in Bossier Parish, near Shreveport. She had been stabbed repeatedly and had been dead for between four and six weeks. Her identity remained a mystery for more than 34 years.
AFTER DECADES, SUCCESSFUL LEAD IN 6 DAYS
Bossier Parish investigators returned to the case in September of last year, and were able to extract DNA from the remains that created a full profile in November. They sent out news releases in Louisiana seeking information and got a few leads, but nothing panned out. Then investigators had an idea after hearing about another case in which social media helped identify the victim in a 35-year-old New York homicide.
On Feb. 6, they created their own Facebook page for the unidentified woman they called “Bossier Doe” that eventually reached more than 2,500 friends. It included a composite image of the victim based on her skull, which was created by the Louisiana State University FACES Lab in Baton Rouge.
It was only six days later that a Bossier Parish 911 officer noticed a Craigslist post created by a family friend seeking information about Cole, whose sister Jeanie Phelps had recently filed a missing person report for her in Kalamazoo. The post contained a photo that the officer thought looked a lot like the composite image of Bossier Doe. The family friend soon contacted the Bossier Doe Facebook page with a side-by-side image of the composite and Cole.
Bossier authorities contacted Cole’s family on Feb. 16, and family members then provided DNA samples. It took a couple more weeks for the results of DNA tests to come back positive: The body was that of Carol Ann Cole.
WAITING 34 YEARS FOR ANSWERS
“All I can think right now is, ‘wow,'” Cole’s sister Phelps said at the press conference, beginning to cry. “Definitely not the way I wanted to find my sister, but I never gave up on finding her. There is a sense of relief, but also a deep sadness. The past couple weeks while waiting for the DNA results seemed like forever compared to the last 35 years. I really cannot express the gratitude to everyone who put so much time into giving Bossier Doe an identity; so many who loved her without knowing who she was. And if you did know her, you would have loved her even more.”
She said her older sister looked after her and that they were best friends.
“Carol Ann was a very sweet, loving girl. She always had a knack with younger children and she would have been an awesome mother. She was robbed of the chance to do that,” Phelps said. “I was robbed of my relationship with the best sister ever.”
She said that after Cole moved away with their mother at the age of 15, she maintained contact with the family for some time. Then, in the winter of 1980, the contact stopped, Phelps said.
“Thirty-five years I longed to have my sister beside me. Think about it: 35 years missing someone, not knowing what happened to them,” Phelps said. “Recently, I came to realize that Carol Ann has been beside me this whole time, still redirecting me as she did we were children.”
Whittington said Cole’s remains will be returned to Michigan, but did not provide details about when.
Whittington said he was “shocked” and “amazed” how quickly the Facebook page yielded a name. A reporter at the press conference asked if the department would utilize social media in other cases.
“You better believe it,” Whittington replied. “Absolutely. It’s too good of a tool not to use.”
He said the department will keep looking for whoever killed Cole, and that though it may be difficult because the death happened so long ago, “half the puzzle has been solved by identifying Carol Ann.”
“The other half will be solved when we find out who did this,” he continued.
Below, watch the full press conference in which police announced that Bossier Doe was Cole via YouTube.
PERSON OF INTEREST
In 1984, a convicted serial killer confessed to killing the then-unidentified victim, but was never convicted. He later recanted his story before dying in a Texas prison.
KATC-TV out of Lafayette, La. reports investigators have interviewed a man named John Chesson as a person of interest in Cole’s disappearance. They say he was one of the hunters who discovered the body. Chesson is already serving life in prison for the murder of another woman found stabbed to death in 1997.