For almost 30 years, Florida police have been vexed by the unsolved murder of a teenage hitchhiker known only as Valentine Jane Doe—because she was raped and murdered on Feb. 14.
But now investigators say DNA has helped them answer the two central questions in the mystery: Who was the young woman found dead in the Florida Keys in 1991, and who strangled her with her pink bikini top?
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday that the victim has been identified as Wanda Deann Kirkum, 18, of Hornell, New York. And the man who murdered her is Robert Lynn Bradley of Texas.
But Bradley will not be brought to justice, cops say, because he was himself killed a year later.
“This case is a testament and shining example of this agency’s commitment to solving crime, no matter how old the case and no matter the challenges,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said.
Windsurfers found Kirkum’s nude body in a wooded area off U.S. 1, the highway that connects Miami to the Keys. She was nude and face-down in some water, with marks in the dirt showing how she had been dragged.
After putting out her description, police got a valuable clue: She was seen trying to hitch a ride going north on Valentine’s Day. The absence of tan lines on her body suggested she was not from Florida. And her perfect teeth were an indication someone had taken good care of her.
But that’s as far as investigators got. Photos of the clothing she was last seen in, descriptions of her tattoos and piercings, and even a forensic mockup of what she looked like in life did not get them any closer to a name.
The case was featured on Unsolved Mysteries, and police got hundreds of tips, but none of them cracked the case.
“You wake up in the middle of the night and you’re [like], ‘Did we look at this, who is she is there, is there anything that we missed in looking at the evidence?’” Lt. Manuel Cuervo of the Monroe Sheriff’s Department told Crime Watch Daily several years ago.
As has happened in so many cold cases, new DNA analysis gave police the answers they sought. After identifying Jane Doe as Kirkum, they learned she had never been reported missing by her parents, who have since died.
They compared DNA from the crime scene to DNA from Bradley’s own homicide and got a match. Newspaper archives show Bradley was found in a ditch with gunshot wounds to the head in Tarrant County, Texas, in April 1992.
“Countless investigative hours have been poured into trying to solve this crime,” Ramsay said in a statement. “Now, with the victim and suspect identities known, the Sheriff’s Office is formally considering the ‘Valentine Jane Doe Homicide’ resolved and closed.”