Family members of a woman once known only as Lavender Doe are planning a trip from Florida to Longview this week to finally put their long-lost sister to rest. They also want to thank a community that embraced Dana Lynn Dodd long before learning the murdered woman’s name.
Dodd was 21 when last seen on parking lot video selling magazine subscriptions at the Fourth Street Walmart in Longview. It took 13 years for that image to be confirmed as Dodd, whose identity was a mystery when her body was found in October 2006 by two men on an oil lease off Fritz Swanson Road, facedown on a burning woodpile.
“We had been looking for her for right around 13 years,” Dodd’s sister, Amanda Gadd, said Friday from Jacksonville, Florida, which Dodd left as a teen with a boyfriend in October 2000.
The family later heard that man died from a drug overdose in Ohio, but they had no idea they needed to be searching for their half sister in East Texas.
They learned her fate this past 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, who is buried in Longview’s White Cemetery (although a grave marker in the cemetery identifies her as “Jane Doe.”)
“We knew immediately it was her,” said Gadd, 44, adding that full confirmation came Jan. 29.
Two days after that, Gadd said, her mother, whom Dodd called her own mother, passed away knowing her step-daughter had been found.
“The hardest thing was my mom, because she raised her,” Gadd said. “(Dodd) looked up to her, because she knew she loved her.”
Their shared father was “not involved” in Dodd’s life, and her biological mother died 15 years ago, Gadd said.
But Dodd’s siblings, who included another older sister, actively searched for her through the years.
“We always wished she would pick up the phone and call us, because she knew that we loved her,” she said.
Gadd, her husband and brother and a nephew will fly to Texas this week to hold private and public graveside services Friday and Saturday for their long-missing family member.
The family ceremony Friday is timed with what would have been Dodd’s 34th birthday.
Gadd said she hopes the community will turn out for the 11 a.m. Saturday memorial so the family can express its gratitude.
“We know a lot of people in town took care of her and embraced her and loved her,” Gadd said. “And we want the public to come out and embrace her as Dana instead of Lavender Doe or Jane Doe.”
The secular public service will be informal and sincere, she said. A headstone will be set to replace Dodd’s anonymous marker.
“We’re just going to speak, and I want to tell everybody thank you for being there for her and keeping her in their thoughts,” Gadd said. “That’s what we take comfort in, is knowing she was loved. People took her in and loved her. OK, she wasn’t with us, but people in Longview took her in as one of their own.”
Gadd said the family hopes to release 13 butterflies at the public service, one for each year they searched for their missing sister.
They will leave her in Longview.
“We kind of made the decision as a family that that’s where she belongs,” Gadd said. “We plan on coming out once or twice a year to visit with her.”
They also plan to attend the murder trial of Joseph Wayne Burnette, whom authorities say has 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.
“We’ll be there every day of the trial,” Gadd said, adding they plan to meet with District Attorney Tom Watson on Friday.
Watson said Friday that investigators continue to work the case and that no new information is publicly available. A trial date has not been set.
Gadd said the family will be flying out of Orlando, Florida. And by Saturday afternoon, it appeared those plans were secure with models of Hurricane Dorian pointing to a northeast turn as it approached the state.