Rankin County Coroner's Office Teams with Othram to Identify a 1978 Jane Doe

After 45 years, the Rankin County Coroner's Office has identified the female homicide victim as Tonya Lea Wills Mullins, born May 12, 1956, in Potter, Texas.

You can help by contributing funding.

Help fund another case Your contributions pay for lab supplies and research tools

Would you like to help solve cases like this one?

You can help by contributing your DNA data here:
Contribute DNA
Published March 23 by Michael Vogen
Media Inquiries


In September 1978, the body of a white female homicide victim between the age of 20 and 25 was discovered, wrapped in a blanket, in an illegal landfill located approximately one mile south of the old Byram Swinging Bridge in Rankin County, Mississippi. The victim had likely been deceased for several days before she was found. There were no clues at the scene that could be used to identify her.

For more than four decades, years after the discovery of the remains, investigators pursued several leads across the United States and Canada in hopes of uncovering her identity. However, despite the investigative efforts, all leads were exhausted, and the case went cold. In April 2021, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP79780. The case did not match to known missing persons.

Rankin County Coroner David Ruth and his deputy, Heather Smith, took a renewed interest in the 1978 Jane Doe case after Ohio officials contacted them about a similar unsolved case. As a result, Ruth filed a petition with the courts to exhume the victim’s body. After considering the evidence, Judge Dewey Arthur approved the exhumation.

In April 2022, Rankin County officials began the exhumation. Ruth collected, prepared, and shipped the forensic evidence in hopes of obtaining a DNA extraction that would ultimately lead to the female homicide victim’s identification. Carla Davis, a Mississippi native and philanthropist committed to helping the state resolve its backlog of unsolved cases, funded the exhumation, and committed to funding the casework necessary to identify the victim. Unfortunately, the first two attempts at DNA testing failed at a previous lab. Carla and the Rankin County investigators then decided to make a third attempt at Othram, which at that point had helped produce identifications for more than a dozen other challenging forensics cases in Mississippi.

In July 2022, forensic evidence was sent to Othram for advanced DNA testing. Othram was able to produce a suitable DNA extract from the skeletal remains that previously failed elsewhere. Next, Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to produce a comprehensive genealogical profile for the 1978 Jane Doe. Carla Davis, now Othram’s Chief Genetic Genealogist, used the genealogical profile to find potential relatives of the victim. A potential close relative to the unknown victim was found and in conjunction with additional DNA testing, investigators confirmed the investigative leads delivered by Othram.

After the additional testing and follow up investigation, the Rankin County Coroner's Office positively identified the female homicide victim as Tonya Lea Wills Mullins. Tonya was born on May 12, 1956, in Potter, Texas, and was 22 years old when she disappeared. She was married and had two children.

The investigation into her death continues as investigators try to determine what happened to Tonya in her final days.

We are very appreciative to everyone that helped shepherd this case from the original crime scene to the exhumation, DNA testing, and investigative process that finally led to the restoration of Tonya's identity.

Help fund another case Your contributions pay for lab supplies and research tools

Michael Vogen

Michael Vogen

Director of Case Management

2829 Technology Forest Blvd Suite 100, The Woodlands, Texas 77381

Michael works with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada on “unsolvable“ cases that can benefit from advanced DNA testing methods. He helps these agencies use cutting edge DNA sequencing and new forensic techniques to develop investigative leads for their cases.

Similar cases

Read More
Read More
Read More
About Othram Inc.

Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at ... Read morerecovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit Othram.com to learn how we can help you with your case. With dnasolves.com anyone can make a difference and help solve the next cold case.