Judge orders exhumation of Jane Doe thought to be missing Lake Charles woman

By By Johnathan Manning / American Press

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.”