For more than 30 years, police wondered about the identities of two women whose bodies were discovered in an overgrown stretch of land known to local residents as the “killing fields.”
It began on the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1986, when two boys became overwhelmed by a sickening smell while riding their dirt bikes along Calder Road in League City, Texas. It didn’t take long for them to discover the decomposing bodies of two young women.
The first body was identified as 16-year-old Clear Creek High School sophomore Laura Miller, who was last seen at a pay phone nearly two years earlier. The other body would remain unidentified and known as Jane Doe.
Five years later, in 1989, a group of horseback riders came upon another decomposing body as they roamed the area where the other bodies had been found. Police could not identify her, and she became known as Janet Doe.
Since 1971, dozens of murder victims have been found in a 25-acre site near Interstate 45, between Galveston and Houston. Local and federal investigators believe, at least, some of the cases are connected.
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“A lot of heartache,” says FBI Supervisor Senior Resident Agent Richard Rennison about the case, which has haunted the community. “A lot of people not knowing what happened to their loved ones. A lot of unanswered questions.”
In recent months, the assistance of technology has been a game-changer for investigators.
After running into various roadblocks for decades, the women’s DNA profiles were entered into a national genealogy database — and soon their identities were positively identified.
Jane Doe is Audrey Lee Cook, 30, a mechanic last seen by her family in 1985, and Janet Doe is Donna Gonsoulin Prudhomme, a 34-year-old mother of two sons who disappeared in 1991.
“These women, they couldn’t defend themselves. They couldn’t speak for themselves,” said Dr. Connie Bormans, lab director at FamilyTree DNA. “We gave a voice to the dead.”
Now that police know who these women are, they are focused on finding out what happened to them.
“This opened two huge doors to the possibility of more leads to identify the killer, which is the ultimate goal,” said Rennison. “The fact that we know who these two people are will certainly give us additional leads. We need to talk to people who knew them, to tell us anything they remember.”
Anyone with information about the case should contact the FBI tip line at 800-CALL-FBI.
To learn more about Cook and Prudhomme, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands Friday.