Siblings of a woman whose identity was unknown for more than a dozen years after her body was found in Gregg County said Saturday that her remains will stay here “because she is part of Longview’s family.”
“It means so much to us that so many people took her and embraced her before she knew who she was,” Amanda Gadd, sister of Dana Lynn Dodd, said during a memorial service at White Cemetery.
Dodd was known for years only as Lavender Doe, and her cemetery marker identified her as “Jane Doe” along with the date she was buried — Dec. 23, 2006.
A new stone was placed at Dodd’s grave Friday, which would have been her 34th birthday.
Dodd was 21 when last seen on parking lot video at the Walmart on Fourth Street in Longview. It took 12 years for that image to be confirmed as Dodd, whose identity was a mystery when her body was found facedown on a burning woodpile in October 2006 by two men on an oil lease off Fritz Swanson Road.
Through those years, Dodd’s family didn’t know what had become of their baby sister, who left her Duval County, Florida, home in 2000 with a boyfriend. Starting in 2003, family members began filing missing persons reports in multiple states knowing only that Dodd had gone to Ohio.
After learning of her fate almost a year ago, Dodd’s family also came to know of the outpouring of love and support shown by East Texans — including flowers placed graveside.
“For us to know that somebody took the time out of their day to come and care for her, put flowers on her grave and say, ‘Hey, we don’t know who you are but we care for you,’ that was our definitive decision of why Dana needed to be here,” Gadd said, “because she is part of Longview’s family, and she is part of so many people in this town and in Texas that we decided this is where she belongs.
“We can come here and visit her,” Gadd added. “We didn’t want to take her away from y’all.”
Gregg County sheriff’s Lt. Eddie Hope, a longtime investigator in the case who was among several sheriff’s officers at Saturday’s service, said the family’s decision is touching.
“It touched my heart to know that they would leave her with us and not take her home where she came from,” Hope said, “so it’s very humbling.”
Family members also placed a metal golden-and-black owl at Dodd’s grave.
“Owls to me are always keeping watch,” Gadd said. “They’re always there as a protector.”
The family learned Dodd’s fate in October when the California-based DNA Doe Project notified Gadd and her brother, John Dodd, that the sister with whom they share a father might be Lavender Doe, identity unknown.
John Dodd said that spending this past week talking with investigators and holding the memorial service brought the family closure.
“Talking to the detective, he’s told me some things that, you know — you hear things out in the media that’s not all true,” he said, “but coming here and face-to-face talking with detectives, it made me get closure big time.”
Joining the family in Longview were John Dodd’s son, Cameron, and Gadd’s husband, Joel Gadd.
Dana Dodd was 12 when she came from Arizona to live with Amanda Gadd and her husband, and she immediately became part of the family, bringing an open, laughing spirit that loved to travel, go to parks or play cards or football in the front yard with her nephews, her sister said.
She also spent time teaching math to the Gadds’ son, who was a first-grader at the time.
“We always sat down at the dinner table, and she loved that we always asked, ‘How was your day?’ She looked forward to that, and she told me that she looked forward to that time as family because she never had that living in Arizona, so that meant a lot to her – was family,” Amanda Gadd said. “That’s also why it’s such a big thing for her to be (in Longview) with...”
“True family,” John Dodd said to complete her sentence.
The siblings plan to return to Texas to attend the murder trial of Joseph Wayne Burnette, whom authorities say confessed to killing Dodd and Felisha Pearson.
The 28-year-old Pearson was found slain in July 2018 in Gregg County, and Burnette has been jailed since on $2.5 million bond. He is under indictment for the deaths of both women, along with a charge of failing to register as a sex offender. That last charge led Gregg County authorities to Burnette and was the subject of the warrant for his arrest.
A representative of the Gregg County District Attorney’s Office also attended Saturday’s graveside service.
“It’s an honor to be here with them,” Hope said, “to see that Dana did get her name badge, and that’s something we worked for.”
Unlike most cases, investigators worked backward to learn their victim’s identity after learning who “the bad guy” was, Hope said.
The family’s graciousness has helped in what is now the prosecution stage of the case.
“They were easy to get in touch with. They were going through a time with a personal family matter when we first contacted them, and we were able to lay back to give them a little time to put the closure on that before we delved in to another family member,” Hope said. “They’ve been nothing but gracious, and thankfulness goes out to them.”
The family paid their appreciation Saturday to law enforcement and East Texas.
“That’s why we chose to leave her here,” Gadd said, “because we feel that she’s part of y’all, and we’re so eternally grateful that you have been here and done this and fought hard to get her name back, and I know that she knows that we’re here and that she was never forgotten.”
“Thank you,” John Dodd added. “Just, thank you.”