In September 1988, 19-year-old Stacey Lyn Chahorski was traveling the country and called her mother to say that she was returning home to Norton Shores, Michigan.
She was never heard from again.
Chahorski wasn’t officially reported missing until January 1989, but in December 1988, just three months after the teen had phoned her mother, the unidentified body of a young woman was discovered in Dade County, Georgia. At the time, no connection was made, and for 33 years, Chahorski’s mother wondered about what had happened to her daughter while police in Georgia wondered who their Jane Doe was.
In March of this year, both questions were answered. The Dade County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced this past spring that, with the help of the Texas-based genealogy company Ortham, they had identified the remains of their Jane Doe as Stacey Lyn Chahorski.
For decades, Georgia authorities had tried to identify their Jane Doe, CBS News reported earlier this year, and a forensic artist had even created a composite image in the hopes that someone would recognize the woman. In the mid-2000s, a DNA profile was developed, but it didn’t match anyone in the FBI’s system.
In 2020, however, Norton Shores detectives collected a fingerprint card from Chahorski’s relatives. Several years later, GBI agents contacted the FBI once again to try to use new investigative genealogy methods, in which DNA and family trees are used to find relatives of the deceased, in order to identify their Jane Doe. Using these methods, Ortham was able to identify the body in Georgia as Chahorski.
“Without the advancements in DNA technology, we wouldn’t have been able to be of assistance and have this success so we’re grateful for that and for the work Othram did,” FBI Special Agent Tim Burke said in March.
Though, identifying the remains was only half of the story.
“Today marks the day where we hunt for the killer now,” GBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Montgomery said in a news conference after Chahorski’s body was identified. “The biggest problem in being able to solve this case is we had no identity of the victim so we had no starting point. Now we have a starting point and that’s a big jump for us.”
“I think we have a good probability of solving this case and bringing the killer to justice,” he added, according to CBS.
At the time Chahorski’s body was found, authorities were able to retrieve DNA they believed belonged to her killer.
“Investigators found what was believed to be the killer’s DNA at the scene,” FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office Keri Farley said at a press conference this week, “but for years it could not be linked to the person.”
Once Chahorski was identified, GBI agents asked the FBI to help identify her killer. The DNA collected from the crime scene where Chahorski was discovered was sent to Ortham, where a genealogy analysis was conducted to create a DNA profile of a suspect. At the same time, FBI genealogists were developing leads, which GBI agents followed, while collecting DNA from potential relatives along the way.
Those efforts identified Henry Frederick “Hoss” Wise as Chahorski’s killer.
“This case is key because it’s the first time that we know of that investigative genealogy was used to identify both the victim and the killer in the same case,” Farley said at the press conference.
Wise was a stunt car driver who died in a car fire at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina in 1999, ABC News reported. He was also a truck driver for Western Carolina Trucking and regularly traveled through Dade County at the time Chahorski was murdered.
Wise had multiple arrests in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina for assault, theft, and obstruction of a police officer, but his DNA wasn’t on file because the crimes occurred before DNA was mandatorily collected for felony arrests.
“Technology alone did not solve this case,” Farley said this week. “The determination of agents in both the FBI and GBI, along with every officer who worked this case for 33 plus years, helped bring this case to its conclusion.”
While authorities were able to identify who murdered Chahorski, without the killer being alive and able to be interviewed we may never know why he killed her or how he even met her back in 1988.
Chahorski had been buried in an unmarked grave in Dade County back in 1989. After she was identified, her body was returned to her family in Norton Shores after her mother was informed of the discovery.
“We were able to notify her and bring her a little bit of peace,” Burke said at the time. “We were also able to provide some jewelry that was found on Stacey back here at the crime scene and return that to her.”