Gregg County deputies exhumed the body of a 2006 murder victim known only as Jane Doe on Wednesday, hoping to finally obtain hard evidence against a suspect they've identified since 2007.
With help from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, investigators could soon put a face on the female victim.
On Oct. 29, 2006, two men target shooting on an oil lease off Fritz Swanson Road north of Texas 31 made a grim discovery. The body of a woman - believed to be between 18 and 21 - was found face down on a burning wood pile.
The body had been so badly burned that investigators could not immediately determine race or gender.
A gas can was found nearby.
The body was determined to be that of a 5-foot, 4-inch tall, 96-pound, white or Hispanic woman who was burned over more than 98 percent of her body, according to a search warrant filed Wednesday in the Gregg County District Clerk's Office.
Reddish-blond or light brown hair was found next to the woman's head, and two charred $20 bills were found in the victim's pocket, according to police reports. No ID was found.
Lt. Kirk Haddix of the Gregg County Sheriff's Office recently joined forces with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He said Thursday he hopes he can finally identify Jane Doe with the use of facial reconstruction technology that provides a more accurate image of what she looked like.
"We developed a suspect, Joseph Wayne Burnette, a known sex offender who is in prison for felony duty to register as a sex offender," Haddix said.
Burnette, 36, of Longview is serving a 10-year sentence in the Nathaniel J. Neal Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Amarillo.
He was eligible for parole in May 2008 but was not released, according to TDCJ prison records. His projected release date is February 2017. Records show Burnette was sentenced in 1997 for a sexual assault in Rusk County.
Haddix would not elaborate on what evidence pointed to Burnette as a suspect but said investigators spoke with him shortly after the body was found.
"Of course he denied it," he said.
Digging up the past
Haddix, along with a forensic anthropologist, exhumed the body Wednesday from White Cemetery in West Longview.
They removed the skull from the casket and took it to Good Shepherd Medical Center where a CT-Scan was performed.
The scanned image was downloaded onto a disk and sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia, where experts will began building a face by adding virtual layers of muscle on top of a 3-D image of the skull.
"We'll get a picture of what they believe this girl looked like," Haddix said.
The Gregg County Sheriff's Office held press conferences in the early years of the investigation seeking the public's help identifying the victim.
Though the case has been cold since 2006, Haddix has spent time working to identify Jane Doe.
"I've been looking through missing persons files. We've looked through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and compared DNA to family members of missing children," he said.
A reconstructed image of Jane Doe was first released in 2008.
"The girl was autopsied, and her skull was reconstructed at that time by using the old clay method," Haddix said.
The body was ruled out as Brandi Wells, a woman who was last seen leaving a Longview nightclub on Aug. 3, 2006.
"(Wells has) never been found. We've already compared DNA (from Jane Doe) to Wells' family members. She's not Brandi Wells," he said.
Haddix expects the new images to be ready in about two months, which means the new year could bring new leads to an old case.