The body of a woman found on the side of the road on Little Shepherd Trial in 1969 has finally been identified as Sonja Kaye Blair-Adams.
According to a press release from Kentucky State Police Public Affairs Officer Shane Jacobs, the body was found by a man more than 47 years ago.
The release states a man picking flowers on the side of Little Shepherd Trail in Harlan County discovered the body. Investigation determined she had been murdered. At the time, she was estimated to be in her late teens or early twenties. For 47 years her identity remained unknown. This month, Kentucky State Police Det. Josh Howard was finally able to identify her. With the help of DNA and the NAMUS system, the 1969 Jane Doe has been identified as Sonja Kaye Blair-Adams.
The release additionally states the NAMUS system (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) is a database designed to assist the public and law enforcement in matching missing persons with unidentified remains. The 1969 Jane Doe was entered into NAMUS in 2009. Karen Stipes, the daughter of Sonja Blair-Adams, searched NAMUS and contacted Det. Josh Howard and Harlan County Coroner Philip Bianchi when she realized there was a possibility the 1969 Jane Doe may be her mother. Sonja was originally from Letcher County, and was 21 at the time she was discovered.
With the assistance of Harlan County Coroner Philip Bianchi and Deputy Coroner Jim Rich, KSP investigators exhumed the body of the Jane Doe in 2015 in attempt to obtain a DNA sample to match with a DNA sample from Karen Stipes. The remains were sent to University of North Texas in 2015 and in September 2016 it was confirmed the DNA matched and the 1969 Jane Doe was Sonja Blair-Adams. Howard was assigned to the case in 2013 and has put a tremendous amount of effort into finally resolving this case. Howard will continue the investigation and hopes to identify her killer.
According to previous reports, while the story of the unidentified girl has garnered some interest over the years, due mostly to the printing of a book called “Harlan County Haunts,” for the most part it has largely gone unnoticed, lost in memory as time and people fade. Todd Matthews, who is the director of communications and case management for NAMUS, says if local author Darla Jackson had not written the book “Harlan County Haunts” it is likely the new effort to identify the person would not have happened.
“The book by Darla is what brought the case to my attention years ago,” Matthews said. “I interviewed her on a radio show I was doing at that time.”
Matthews said the Pine Mountain case predated the state medical examiner’s office, so they were not aware of the case automatically.
Howard said in a previous report 10 to 15 KSP detectives have worked the case over the last four-plus decades.
Previous reports also indicated the young woman had been beaten and was punched so hard that some of her teeth rested in her throat. Due to the body being badly decomposed, law enforcement investigators at the time couldn’t determine if the young woman had been sexually assaulted or raped.
At the murder scene, an order ticket stub from a restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, and parts of a man’s sweater was found near the body. No other clothing, personal belongings, or identification of any kind were found near the body.
Former investigators also believe that the young woman was murdered elsewhere and her body was dumped on Pine Mountain, prior reports state.
Bianchi, KSP Sgt. Jason Joseph, KSP Lt. Randy Surber and KSP Intelligence Analyst Chris Daniels assisted Howard in the investigation since 2013. Anyone who has more information on this case should contact Kentucky State Police Post 10 at 606-573-3131.