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.
Nelda Louise Hardwick. (www.wlox.com / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 7:35 PM
A hearing was held Friday in a Mississippi court to determine whether to exhume a Jane Doe thought to be a Lake Charles woman who went missing in the 1990s, but the judge has not yet made a decision.
Nelda Louise Hardwick, 34, went missing from Lake Charles on Oct. 14, 1993.
An unidentified woman was killed by a motorist on Interstate 10 in Mississippi’s Hancock County on May 8, 1998.
Jim Faulk, Hancock County coroner, has asked Judge Lisa Dodson to authorize him to exhume the body to see whether the Jane Doe is Hardwick.
Dodson on Friday questioned whether scars on Hardwick and the woman match, Faulk said.
One of Hardwick’s four children has provided a DNA sample, said Lori Test, Hardwick’s niece.
“We appreciate all the compassion we’ve been given. I just hope the judge does the same,” Test said.
Faulk believes the woman is Hardwick, as do her family and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“I sure do,” Faulk said.
Photos of the woman match photos of Hardwick, as do other identifying marks, said Kim Myers, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Lt. Micah Benoit, with the Sheriff’s Office, traveled to Mississippi on Friday to attend the hearing, Myers said.
In addition to the similarities in facial features, age, height and weight, neither Hardwick nor the woman had teeth, Faulk said.
The woman’s ears weren’t pierced, and neither were Hardwick’s, Test said.
Test said she believes the woman is her aunt, as does Hardwick’s sister.
“Absolutely,” Test said. “The first time I saw (the pictures) it was instant recognition.
“We feel this is Nelda.”
Test believes so strongly that the woman is Hardwick that she took a marker and wrote Hardwick’s name on the woman’s tombstone in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. Dodson told her to remove the name.
Even if the woman isn’t Hardwick, Faulk said he would like a DNA sample from the woman to enter into a missing person’s database.
Other law enforcement agencies have contacted him to see if the woman matches the description of women who went missing in their area around the same time, Faulk said.
Police in north Louisiana first contacted him about the Jane Doe, he said.
That led him to begin researching who the missing woman could be. Searching the Internet for photos of women who went missing around the same time, Faulk came across Hardwick’s picture.
“I said, ‘Wow, that looks like her,’ ” he said.
According to an article printed in the American Press in January 1994, authorities did not suspect foul play.
Hardwick reportedly left a note at her home at the corner of 18th and Center streets that she was walking to a convenience store.
Faulk and Test believe she could have been abducted. Test does not believe Hardwick would have abandoned her four children.
“I’d still love to know how she ended up on that highway, but we have to take it one step at a time,” Test said.
There isn’t much precedent in Hancock County for an exhumation, Faulk said.
He said that if the judge allows the exhumation, he will first use sonar to make sure the correct grave is dug up. Faulk said headstones may have been swapped in the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. He and other officials will then dig up the grave by hand, he said.