A woman was hit and killed in Hancock County Mississippi in the middle of the night walking down Interstate 10 in 1998. The family of Nelda Hardwick, a Lake Charles woman who went missing in the late 1990s, is convinced that the body in this Jane Doe grave is Nelda. According to WLOX, Ch. 13, in Gulfport, Miss., Lori Test wrote Nelda's name on the Jane Doe grave marker, and has left flowers and mementos at the grave site to honor her aunt.
Last Modified: Friday, October 25, 2013 8:23 PM
A judge in Mississippi will allow a Hancock County coroner to exhume the body of an unidentified woman to take a DNA profile.
Coroner Jim Faulk believes the unidentified woman is Nelda Louise Hardwick, who was reported missing from Lake Charles in October 1993.
Faulk asked circuit Judge Lisa Dodson to allow him to exhume the body of Jane Doe, from whom a DNA sample was never taken.
Hardwick, a mother of four, went missing from her Lake Charles home on Oct. 14, 1993.
Jane Doe was killed by a motorist on Interstate 10 in Hancock County on May 8, 1998.
Faulk, Hardwick’s family and Southwest Louisiana law enforcement authorities believe the woman in the grave is Hardwick.
Faulk testified before Dodson on Oct. 18, but Dodson didn’t deliver her order until Friday.
Lori Test, Hardwick’s niece, said the family was concerned that Dodson would not allow the exhumation.
“We’re in a much better place than we were last week,” Test said. “We’re very happy.”
Photos of the women, as well as the fact that neither woman had teeth nor had their ears pierced, led the family to believe the women are the same person, Test said.
Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said scars and measurements also match up, including a scar on both women’s abdomens.
“It’s more than just ‘It looks like her’; there are identifying marks,” Mancuso said. “There’s some pretty overwhelming bits of information.
“We feel confident it’s going to be her, but obviously until all the test results come back we won’t know for sure.”
Faulk began researching the identity of Jane Doe when authorities in north Louisiana contacted him to see if she was a missing woman in their area.
Faulk began digging on the Internet through photos of women who went missing around the same time and found a picture of Hardwick.
“I’m just overjoyed that we can get past this major hurdle,” Faulk said. “Everybody seems to think that since (an exhumation) has never been done before we’d never get it done. But anyway, we’ve succeeded, so now the real work starts. I’m pleased as punch for the family.”
Faulk said he will use ground-penetrating sonar to make sure he is digging in the correct spot. He will then dig the grave by hand, along with Mark LeVaughn, Mississippi’s chief medical examiner, and a professor of forensic anthropology at Ole Miss.
The woman’s left femur will be sent to the University of North Texas for DNA extraction, Faulk said. “Then we will be able to show who she is,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”