KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeanie Phelps clutched the silver, angel wing charm hanging from her necklace.
It is a new charm, filled with some of the ashes of her sister, Carol Ann Cole, whose body lay unidentified for nearly 35 years after hunters found it in a woods in Louisiana. For all those years, her sister was known down there only as Bossier Doe, an unidentified murder victim.
Now, just weeks after the match was made thanks to a composite sketch, a Facebook page and DNA testing, Phelps is left to wonder if investigators back then could have done more to identify her sister.
Bossier Parish detectives revealed that Carol Ann Cole was one of the names looked at from the beginning while trying to identify the body. A coroner mistakenly ruled her out.
“There’s a lot of mixed feelings on it,” Phelps said Thursday, speaking at her home in Kalamazoo. “There’s some anger, there’s some hurt because I had to spend 35 years wondering, where’s my sister?”
Cole was 17 when she disappeared in late 1980 after moving to Texas with her mother. She later called her grandmother collect from Shreveport, La., not far from Bossier Parish, to say she was babysitting. That was the last her family heard from her.
It was her grandmother who called Bossier deputies in 1980 looking for her.
“They’ve got documentation from my grandmother’s phone call,” Phelps said.
Two weeks after that call, in January 1981, hunters found the body of a young woman in the woods. She had been stabbed. She became known as Bossier Doe.
Bossier detectives say Cole’s name was on their list of more than a dozen possible names from the beginning, and that they even got evidence from Kalamazoo to try to make a match with the remains.
They say nobody knows why the coroner didn’t make the match. He has since died and most of those records were destroyed in a fire.
“They just said there were differences in the description; that’s all that they have,” Phelps said.
Early this month, Phelps was in Bossier Parish when detectives announced that Bossier Doe was her sister — a match made thanks to a Facebook page created by police and a Craigslist ad posted by Jeanie’s friend, Patty Thorington.
“My grandmother passed in 2000,” Phelps said. “She had to spend the last 19 years of her life wondering where Carol Ann was. I don’t think it should have been. She was there. She found her and she passed away thinking she hadn’t found her.”
Despite the missed opportunity, Phelps said she has nothing but confidence in the detectives now working the case. They have identified a person of interest — one of the hunters who discovered the body. He is in prison for an unrelated murder.
Phelps fears the delay in making the match will make it difficult to build a case in her sister’s murder.
“There is some closure, but I’m just hoping there’s some justice for Carol Ann also, and it’s harder for detectives to get right now because it’s 35 years old,” she said.