Identification Closes Chapter, Accelerates Homicide Investigation | Across Indiana
The identification of Margaret ‘Maggie’ Sniegowski this week closed a chapter for farmer Don Lawson, who found her body 30 years ago.
“It’s definitely a day I was hoping for,” Lawson said at a news conference Wednesday after Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen announced DNA evidence led to Sniegowski’s identification. .
“Today I met his family,” Lawson said. “And now I know who Jane Doe is. It’s not just someone I found unfortunate. She’s a family member, and I’m truly honored to call them (Maggie’s family) friends. … It was extremely important for me to find out who they are and to know more about them.
Lawson, who is now Boone County Commissioner, said he was relieved the sheriff’s office resolved the Sniegowski family case.
Lawson was working on his farmland before planting along Interstate 65 in Ind. 47 on May 3, 1992, when he saw something in a ditch, he said.
“I pulled over and got out and took a look and realized it wasn’t something someone just threw out of their car,” Lawson told reporters afterward. wiping away tears and clearing his throat. “It’s a day that I thought would never come. But I’ve been an EMT for 36 years, and I’ve seen a lot…”
Sniegowski, known locally as Jane Doe until this week, was a 17-year-old high school student when she moved away from her parents’ home in Toledo, Ohio in the spring of 1992. Her family n never knew where she went or what happened to her. until Nielsen and Lt. Jason Reynolds go to his brother Leonard ‘Lenny’ Sniegowski’s office in Dallas, Texas to inform him of his passing all those years ago.
Lenny spoke at Wednesday’s event with the eldest of eight Sniegowski siblings, Wendy Sniegowski, at his side.
Lenny said he wondered every day since his disappearance where his sister had gone and how she was doing. “She was still in high school,” he said. “She was very, very outgoing. She was a tough girl, a fighter… She had a great personality. She didn’t deserve what happened to her.
Her sister, Wendy, who still lives in Toledo, said: “I held on to hope, thinking that one day she would come home and have someone familiar to come home to.”
Maggie’s family still believed until recently that she may have run away or been enslaved in the sex trade. Many of their siblings have since left Toledo, and their parents, Leonard and Margaret Sr., died without knowing what happened to Maggie.
“Everyone was scattered and I stayed with my two children,” Wendy said. “I never thought in a million years that I would be in this sibling club dealing with the loss of a sibling.”
Both Lenny and Wendy thanked Nielsen and the Boone County community. “Without them, she wouldn’t have had at least some kind of rest and well-being,” Wendy said.
Two strangers to the family, Peter Obremskey and Nancy Reagan from Lebanon, paid for tests to help identify Maggie after previous attempts had failed.
“But finding out that the community took her under their wing and cared about her and didn’t stop until they found out who she is,” gives Wendy great peace, said she declared. “And now I can share this closure with the whole community. It’s not just our family. It is a new extended family community.
How Maggie Emerged
Forensic analysts and Boone County Sheriff’s Detectives in November first linked Maggie to one of her sisters who submitted a DNA sample to 23andMe, a genetics and ancestry company. Genetics companies analyze DNA samples and match donors with other siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and help identify ancestors from previous generations.
Actor George Clooney, for example, reportedly learned through DNA analysis that he and President Abraham Lincoln were five-times-distant half-first cousins.
Lenny said his sister, Becky Elliott, took a DNA test and showed him family photos of great-great-great-great-grandparents on his father’s side that the test linked them to. He never would have guessed that Becky’s DNA would link them to their missing sister, he said.
Not knowing Maggie’s identity in 1992, local authorities buried her in the County Poor’s Cemetery on the grounds of Boone County Jail in Lebanon. She was exhumed in 1993 and again in 1995 to collect evidence to find out her identity.
Authorities sent Maggie’s body to the University of Indianapolis for storage in 1995 as they searched for a lab capable of extracting and analyzing her DNA. Othram, a lab that combines genome sequencing with human identification applications, agreed in October to perform forensic-grade genome sequencing on the remains.
In November, Othram reported leads for Maggie’s identity to the sheriff’s office, and Investigations Commander Jason Reynolds led a team that tracked down Lenny and Wendy. Lenny and Wendy in January provided DNA samples that matched Maggie’s.
Far from over
Identifying Maggie is just the beginning, Nielsen said. His detectives have now focused on finding and bringing his killer to justice.
Maggie’s death was the first violent crime Nielsen investigated as a new deputy. “We’ll find out who did it, and I can’t wait,” Nielsen said.
Boone County investigators are working with Toledo police to determine what happened there and how Maggie ended up in Boone County, he said.
Nielsen declined to say whether investigators recovered any DNA that did not belong to Maggie from the crime scene. He wasn’t immediately sure if his death was linked to a series of murders along I-65 during that time, but said investigators were looking into the possibility.
Maggie was found face down and partially naked at the bottom of an I-65 on a ramp embankment, and investigators at the time believed she had been strangled. But the autopsy could not determine the cause and circumstances of his death.
“The manner in which the body was found indicates that someone may have been strangled,” Boone County Coroner Justin Sparks said Wednesday. The breakdown may have prevented determinations, he added.
“We couldn’t prove it at the time of the autopsy, but again, back then we didn’t have the tools, we didn’t have some of the knowledge that we have today,” Sparks added.
Sparks has all of the original records from the investigation into Maggie’s death and will partner with medical examiners to review the autopsy. “We may find others,” he said.
Maggie’s family will eventually collect her remains and bring her home to rest, but she may still have work to do in Boone County.
“We’re going to keep Maggie a little longer and make sure there’s no more evidence to be gained by having her here,” Nielsen said Thursday.
After that, he plans to help Maggie return home to join her parents.