It’s been 20 years since her body was discovered by a passerby, who spotted a long, slender package sitting in the red sand off the side of State Route 276 in southeastern Utah and called the sheriff.
It’s been 20 years since detectives peeled back the children’s rug that she was wrapped in and determined she was the victim of a gruesome homicide.
It’s been 20 years, and no one has come forward to identify her.
Now, the Utah Department of Public Safety is reviving the woman’s case, hoping to finally figure out who she was and, maybe too, who was responsible for her death. Officers are retesting DNA evidence. They’ve reinterviewed a suspect. And they’re asking the public for any tips.
“We want to see if there’s anything out there, any information, any leads. We need the help,” said State Bureau of Investigation Agent Brian Davis. “She deserves justice.”
He announced the new push in the cold case during a news conference Tuesday. It comes after a “Dateline NBC” program aired last month on convicted serial killer Scott Kimball. Currently, he’s the only person of interest in this Utah “Jane Doe” investigation, Davis said.
But without the woman’s name or any witnesses, he added, they likely won’t be able to charge Kimball — or anyone else — with homicide.
“There’s a lot of small circumstantial pieces that link him to the victim, but there’s not enough there,” Davis said. “We don’t have enough to move forward on this case.”
The woman’s body was discovered on April 20, 1998, about 38 miles north of Lake Powell near Maidenwater Spring. She was wrapped in a blue sleeping bag, a few garbage bags and a play mat for kids patterned with roads and houses. She was taped up and tied in with several pieces of rope in intricate knots, according to the original investigation report, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request.
“The ends of the thumbs and all the fingers had been cut off at a right angle,” the report states, further complicating any efforts to identify her.
The woman, known as the “Maidenwater victim,” was between 37 and 45 years old when she died. She weighed 116 pounds, was 5 feet tall, had brown hair and brown eyes and tattooed eyebrows. She was believed to be American Indian or Latina.
Davis, who has been investigating this case for two years, said the woman did not appear to be a transient as she was “well kept.” No family members, though, have ever come forward to identify her or report a missing person with her characteristics.
Kimball, the lone person of interest in the case, is currently serving a 70-year sentence in a Colorado prison after confessing to four murders committed between 2003 and 2004. It is believed that he killed as many 25 people across the West.
The deaths that he’s admitted to include three young women — LeAnn Emry, Jennifer Marcum and Kaysi McLeod — and his uncle, Terry Kimball, and happened while he was on release from another sentence and working as an FBI informant.
Davis said there are connections between the manner of those homicides and the circumstances of the Maidenwater victim’s death.
For one, the complex knots tied around the woman’s body are “very consistent” with those looped around Terry Kimball. And Scott Kimball left Emry’s body in a Utah canyon, too, “packaged” in a similar way.
Additionally, the rug that the Maidenwater victim was wrapped in was the same kind that Scott Kimball’s son, Justin, told investigators that he played with when he was 5 years old — his age in 1998 when the woman’s body was found.
“It’s another one of those little pieces,” Davis said.
In 2011, Kimball told investigators that he killed 21 people, including one on a bridge near Hite, Utah, in 1998 or 1999. That’s near where the Maidenwater woman was found. And Kimball spoke, too, about being often in the state for family reunions and vacations.
Prosecutors also received somewhat of a confirmation from Kimball that he was involved in the woman’s death when they tried to work out a plea deal with him that would have involved him confessing to more murders. They showed him photos of various homicide victims, and he put a question mark on ones he suggested he might have a connection to. The Maidenwater woman was one of those, Davis said.
But the deal didn’t work out, and he never formally admitted involvement in more than the four cases he was convicted on.
Davis interviewed Kimball in prison last year and said the man is manipulative and likes to play head games. The agent talked to him about possibly working out an agreement to transfer him to a different facility or improve “his prison situation” if he cooperated on the Maidenwater case. Kimball insisted he had no involvement. And there’s no physical evidence, such as DNA, to prove it one way or the other if the case were to go to court.
“There’s no remorse,” Davis said. “He’s a sociopath with no conscience.”
Because of his long sentence — and other fraud and gun charges that Kimball is serving time on — it’s likely that he will die in prison. But Davis would like to see him “held accountable” if he killed the Maidenwater woman.
“We work until we hit dead ends,” he added. “And we’ll keep working as long as we need to get answers.”
Anyone with information on the case can call 801-887-3800.