1968, May 17: Tent Girl
On May 17, 1968, Wilbur Riddle discovered the body of a young woman wrapped and tied in a canvas bag thirteen miles north of Georgetown, Kentucky.
That morning Riddle had gone to Eagle Creek, which runs alongside Interstate Highway 75 in Scott County, to look for glass insulators left behind by workmen repairing phone lines in the area; he planned to paint them and sell them as curios. About 11 am, while hunting around near the interchange of I-75 and U.S. 25, he found an odd bag in some bushes just over a fence beside the highway. It was fairly big; a green canvas bag, like a tent would be rolled up in, wrapped all around with a thin cord. Curious, he pulled the bag loose from the underbrush, but it got away from him and rolled the short distance to the edge of the creek. Riddle walked down to the bag and tried to pull it open, when he noticed a horrible odor coming from inside it. He immediately ran to his truck and sped to the nearest pay phone, where he called Bobby Vance, the Scott County sheriff.
Minutes later, Riddle was showing his find to not only Sheriff Vance, but also Deputy Jimmy Williams and Deputy Coroner Kenneth Grant. The bag contained the badly decomposed body of a female, naked but for a towel of some sort that was wrapped around her head; she had obviously been dead for weeks. She was doubled up in the bag, and her right hand was clenched like a fist. A search of the immediate area turned up no other physical evidence.
The body was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, where Deputy Coroner Kenneth Grant and his assistants determined the girl had been Caucasian, five feet and one inch tall, weighed about 110 to 115 pounds, with an estimated age of between sixteen and nineteen years old, short reddish-brown hair, and no identifying marks, scars, or piercings. She had not been shot, and she had not been pregnant; she had been dead for about two to three weeks. With diligence and luck, a single fingerprint was recovered from her badly decomposed hand.
Dubbed “Tent Girl” by a reporter with the Kentucky Post & Times Star because she’d been found in a ‘tent bag’, the search for her identity was assisted by Scott County Attorney Virgil Pyror, who called in coroner Dr. Frank Cleveland to perform a more complete autopsy. Cleveland found a slight discoloration of her skull, and no evidence of poisons or toxic materials. Overall, the evidence suggested that she had been knocked unconscious by a blow to the head, then stuffed into the bag and tied up, only to die by suffocation later.
Sheriff Vance and his men began to search for anyone who might have been in the area of the body in the past few weeks, but the investigation turned up nothing. Two weeks later, the Kentucky Post & Times Star asked Harold Musser, a patrolman and sketch artist with the Covington Police Department, to produce a portrait of the Tent Girl from the photographs of the body taken during the autopsies. After a week of studying the photos, Musser produced a portrait that was then published statewide in a further attempt to identify the girl... and lead after lead began to appear.
The police spent hours digging through letters, and following up leads; none of them helped. The problem was that the Tent Girl was very average in her appearance, with no singular striking feature... she was the generic girl-next-door, and literally hundreds of missing girls fit what little was known of her physical description. One lead in particular looked promising; a missing girl from Pasadena, Maryland, named Dorris Ditmar. But, despite matching dental records, the lead was a bust... Ditmar turned out to be alive and well, and living in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
While police were still checking the Dorris Ditmar possibility, a truck driver reported seeing a pair of hitchhikers on U.S. 25, near where the body had been, two weeks before it was found. He said he was driving through the rain about two and a half miles north of Sadieville when he passed them; a young man and woman, wearing clothes too light for the weather.
A phone call later from a retired heavy equipment operator confirmed the truck driver’s story. The operator had picked up two hitchhikers, a young man and a woman, on April 14th near the spot the body would later be found. The young woman was wearing a short dress, gray sweater, and a light blouse, and the operator was positive it was the same person as the police sketch; the young man was described as having “hippie-like” hair, and both had camping packs with them. As he drove south, the young couple kept arguing with each other, and, finally, he told them to get out. He last saw them hitchhiking back North towards Georgetown.
Police had also received an anonymous call that claimed the towel found with Tent Girl had been cut from a roll in the restroom of Noble’s Restaurant in nearby Corinth three to five weeks before the body was found, and that part of a girl’s shoe had been found nearby. Sheriff Vance and Deputy Williams drove out to check the lead; at the restaurant, they cut a piece of towel for later comparison to that which had been found with Tent Girl, and showed the police sketch to patrons to see if anybody remembered seeing her. But no one did... and the rumored shoe never turned up, nor did the towel from the restaurant match the towel found with the body.
In fact, it turned out the “towel” found with the body wasn’t even a towel... a FBI lab in Washington identified it as part of a baby’s diaper (specifically, a “Birdseye” diaper). The same lab had performed tests on the canvas bag and cord that had held the body; and the tests indicated that everything was of standard materials handled by a large number of manufacturers and distributors. They were unable to narrow down the leads.