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Investigators trying to identify a woman bludgeoned to death before her killer left her body along a Vernon County road in 1984 caught a break in the case when pollen embedded in her clothing revealed she lived in the Southwest.

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Artist sketch

An artist's sketch of an unidentified woman whose body was found along a Vernon County road in 1984.

A test done on the victim’s clothing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Chicago recovered a rare pollen specific to an urban area in the Semi-Arid Highlands or lowest elevation zone of the Temperate Sierra in Arizona or New Mexico, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation.

For decades, investigators believed the woman lived in the Midwest, possibly in a 90-mile radius of Westby, said Vernon County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Bjerkos, who has worked the case for more than a decade.

“I was stunned,” he said. “This is significant. This changes our investigation.”

Late May 4, 1984, three juveniles found the woman’s body on the side of Old Line Road four miles west of Westby. She died of head injuries, and her hands were severed at the wrists before she was dumped on the gravel roadside, possibly by the driver of a yellow two-door compact car, according to the sheriff’s office.

The victim was white, 50 to 63 years old, 5-foot-5, 150 pounds with brown hair that was graying and blue eyes. She had a 4-inch surgical scar on her abdomen and dentures that were broken during the killing.

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Victim's clothing

She was found wearing a ¾-length coat, paisley patterned dress, a light blue turtleneck and brown shoes size 8½.

Investigators searched vehicle records, circulated information through dental laboratory journals, exhumed her remains and pursued hundreds of leads before submitting her clothing for testing in April 2017, Bjerkos said.

Results came earlier this year and investigators have new hope that someone in Wisconsin, Arizona or New Mexico will identify her.

“If we can identify her, we feel confident we will find the person who is responsible for her demise,” Bjerkos said.

Anne Jungen can be reached at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @LCTCrimeCourts.

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Police and courts reporter

Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

(1) comment

LaCrosse Lady

Now check her teeth for minerals to see where she lived when she was a child.

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