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Toddler found dead in a Mississippi river is finally identified by DNA after 38 years

A toddler who was found dead in a Mississippi river 38 years ago has finally been identified thanks to DNA technology, but her mother who also disappeared around the same time is still missing. 

The little girl who was known as Baby Jane Doe and later nicknamed ‘Delta Dawn’ now has a name. She is Alisha Ann Heinrich. 

Alisha was 18 months old when she was found floating in the Escatawpa River on December 5, 1982.

Authorities have identified her mother as Gwendolyn Mae Clemons who was 23 years old when she also went missing. 

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Gwendolyn Mae Clemons

A toddler who was found dead in a Mississippi river 38 years ago has been identified as Alisha Heinrich (left) thanks to DNA technology, police say her mother, Gwendolyn Mae Clemons (right), is still missing

According to a statement from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Clemons and Alisha vanished from the Joplin, Missouri, area around Thanksgiving 1982. They were with Clemons' boyfriend. Clemons hasn't been heard from or seen ever since

According to a statement from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Clemons and Alisha vanished from the Joplin, Missouri, area around Thanksgiving 1982. They were with Clemons’ boyfriend. Clemons hasn’t been heard from or seen ever since 

According to a statement from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Clemons and Alisha vanished from the Joplin, Missouri, area around Thanksgiving 1982. They were with Clemons’ boyfriend. 

Alisha’s body was found in the river a week later, but Clemons hasn’t been seen or heard from since her disappearance. 

Thanks to advances in DNA technology and a partnership with Othram Incorporated, a Houston-based private DNA lab that works with law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases, investigators were able to confirm Alisha’s identity. 

Catherine Serbousek, a mother-of-two contributed $2,600 toward the cost of the genetic testing that led to Alisha’s identification.

Serbousek was about eight years old and living in Arkansas when she first heard about Delta Dawn on television. 

At that point, the case went cold and investigators were looking for new leads. 

'Our investigators hope the identities will lead to more clues to solve this case. It remains open and active,' Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell (pictured speaking) said Friday

‘Our investigators hope the identities will lead to more clues to solve this case. It remains open and active,’ Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell (pictured speaking) said Friday 

The case of Delta Dawn

For nearly 40 years, Alisha Heinrich was known as Baby Jane and then Delta Dawn after she was believed to have been thrown off a bridge over the Escatawpa River in Mississippi. 

On December 5, 1982, a truck driver notified the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department of a possible sighting of a body in the river near the I-10 bridge close to Moss Point, Mississippi.

When deputies arrived to the scene, they found the remains of the girl close to a delta. 

The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the child had died hours earlier, which would have meant that she was alive for at least a week when she and her mother were last seen on or around Thanksgiving Day of 1982. 

But the case went cold and investigators were unable to child or locate her family until authorities took her remains to Orthram Inc in 2019.  

Her killer has not been found and her mother remains missing. 

Serbousek, who realized she was about the same age as Delta Dawn would have been if she was still alive, said: ‘Then I thought, well she could have been my friend. 

‘She’s just gone, and no one knows who she was.’ 

According to DNA Solves, since 2002, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has been assisting the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department with analytical and forensic resources. 

In 2014, a NCMEC forensic artist created a facial reconstruction of what the child may have looked like.

The image was distributed across social media with hopes that someone would recognize her. 

In 2019, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department brought Alisha’s remains to Orthram. 

Othram’s forensic scientists were then able to tie Alisha’s DNA profile to potential family members in Missouri. 

Ezell said that ‘DNA samples were collected from two of Gwendolyn’s family members and sent to NamUs’, which is a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the US. 

‘Our investigators hope the identities will lead to more clues to solve this case. It remains open and active,’ Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said Friday. 

‘We are asking any law enforcement agency that may have found an unidentified body matching Gwen’s description to please contact us,’ Ezell added. 

Ezell said investigators are also working closely with family members with hopes of determining who killed Alisha and what happened to Clemons. 

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call 228-769-3063.  


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