NewsTreasure CoastRegion Indian River County


Deputies use genetic genealogy to ID woman found dead in Indian River County in 1982

Evelyn Lois Horne Townsend found shot to death in canal
Indian River County cold case identified 03122024.png
Posted at 3:44 PM, Mar 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-12 20:12:41-04

VERO BEACH, Fla. — The Indian River County Sheriff's Office said it has used genetic genealogy to identify a woman whose body was found in a canal beside a state road more than 40 years ago.

"For 42 years the Indian River County Sheriff's Office has referred to her as 'Jane Doe.' We don't know who she is, but every year we memorialize her," Sheriff Eric Flowers said Tuesday during a news conference. "Folks, we gave her her name back. We did it. Her name isn't Jane Doe anymore."

Flowers said deputies have identified Evelyn Lois Horne Townsend, of Perry, as the woman who was found shot to death on Sept. 1, 1982, along west State Road 60.

Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers cold case 1982 03122024
Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers discusses process of identifying woman in cold case on March 12, 2024.

Flowers said his office used genetic testing to identify a half-sibling who confirmed that Townsend, born on May 9, 1939, was indeed the missing relative.

Townsend's daughter and brother also attended the news conference. It was their first time meeting each other.

"My mother disappeared just one month after I turned 18 years old. This year, I will be 60," Debra Townsend Dubois, Townsend's daughter, said. "From the day that her body was found, to the day I found out this woman could possibly be my mother, 15,079 days had passed with her on mind, never forgotten."

Townsend's daughter said her mom's identity was confirmed to her on Feb. 29. She also said her mom moved often.

Debra Townsend Dubois daughter of woman identified Indian River County 03122024
Debra Townsend Dubois shares experience of waiting years for her missing mother to be identified.

"She was a drifter," Dubois said. "I've never known my mother to work, but my mother always had plenty of money."

Townsend's brother said he was in shock.

"I was told years ago that her body had been discovered in Tampa Bay and the family was advised not to pursue her death," Lavone Horne, Townsend's brother, said. "I'm still trying to put this in some sort of perspective in my life and, quite frankly, I am having a little difficulty doing this. It's basically something out of a movie, so it's going to take me a while to absorb this."

Lavone Horne Evelyn Lois Horne Townsend brother Indian River County cold case 03122024.jpg
Evelyn Lois Horne Townsend's brother Lavone Horne (left) talks about how surreal it is learning that his sister's body has been identified.

The Indian River County Sheriff's Office said it was able to identify Townsend after her body was exhumed through the unidentified human remains grant, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Parabon, a DNA technology company.

"Her body was exhumed in 2016 in a partnership with the University of Florida," Flowers said. "We pulled DNA at that point and, in 2016, genetic DNA was still in its infancy."

The sheriff's office said it is still investigating Townsend's death.