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Henderson police ID girl in unsolved 1980 killing as New Mexico teen

In a case etched in the memory of retired Henderson police Detective John Williams, a teenage girl who had been killed and abandoned in the desert went unidentified for four decades.

But when Henderson Detective Joseph Ebert recently showed up at his house with pictures of 17-year-old Tammy Corrine Terrell of Roswell, New Mexico, Williams instantly knew that he was looking at “Jane Arroyo Grande Doe,” even 15 years after he left the force.

Williams, 71, and his wife, Jackie, had even raised money to help pay for her gravesite and headstone, which they have visited every year after Terrell’s body was found Oct. 5, 1980, near old Lake Mead Drive and Arroyo Grande Boulevard.

Williams continued to assist in the investigation after retiring, “because she had nobody there to find out who she was and to help her,” he said Thursday from Henderson City Hall, where Capt. Jonathan Boucher announced the breakthrough in the case.

“I’m proud to say today that Detective Williams’ and Ebert’s efforts have finally paid off,” Boucher said.

Terrell, who was born July 4, 1963, was identified through analysis of DNA recovered at the crime scene, Boucher told reporters, noting that the DNA of two of her sisters helped put a name to the body.

“Now we’re only halfway there,” Boucher said. “Now, the pursuit for Tammy’s killer or killers begins.”

Boucher said police now know that Terrell was last seen alive in a Roswell restaurant a week prior, where she was accompanied by an unidentified man and an unknown woman following a state fair.

Terrell was “possibly planning to leave New Mexico for an unknown destination in California,” police said in a news release, which noted that she was identified Nov. 10.

Police did not name Terrell’s sisters or offer additional details on the ongoing murder investigation.

Jane Doe

Terrell’s nude body was discovered facedown by two men who had pulled off state Route 146, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal archives.

The few leads gathered — evidence that she was bashed on the head with a hammer and stabbed in the back, and that Terrell had a homemade “S” tattoo on her right forearm — did not advance the case.

The girl was 5 feet, 2 inches, weighed 103 pounds and had red hair and green eyes. She went nameless, as did a possible suspect or motive.

“I’ll never not work on it,” Williams told the Review-Journal for a retirement story in 2006. “We’re basically the only family she’s got.”

The Henderson Police Department said Thursday several organizations, including the FBI, Firebird Forensics Group and Gene by Gene, had aided over the years.

The case was featured on TV and received national attention.

In 2003, Terrell’s body was exhumed to compare dental records after a detective in Sparks uncovered the case of a missing girl who looked like her. It was not her.

Former Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy told the Review-Journal in 2013 that his office had taken X-rays, fingerprints and dental samples, but hit a wall.

“Back in the day, that’s the way everybody did business,” Murphy said. “We’re talking about the science of the ’80s and ’90s versus today. We were very limited in the resources we could get.”

The case received additional attention in 2015, the 35th anniversary of Terrell’s death. Williams and Ebert, the detective who took over the investigation, visited the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that year, Boucher said.

Not forgotten

“Tammy’s sisters, I will tell you, were tremendously grateful to finally know what happened to their sister 41 years ago,” Boucher said.

The captain complimented Williams’ dedication.

“John’s been on the case for 41 years. I mean, he’s wanted to know who Tammy was for 41 years,” he said. “I’m sure there’s some satisfaction in that, but that’s only half the story, you know. We still need to find her killers and bring them to justice.”

Jackie Williams, who has been married to the retired detective for 48 years, said she was able to speak Terrell’s family.

“It was very exciting. I wanted to tell her that her sister was not forgotten, that we’ve always remembered her,” she said. “That was the important part for me.”

Her husband said he had never lost hope of identifying Terrell.

“Someday, I knew, we would find out who she is. And now, someone will find out who did it,” he said. “I’ll continue helping Detective Ebert anyway I possibly can.”

Anyone with information on the case may contact Henderson police at 702-267-4750. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 702-385-5555 or crimestoppersofnv.com.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.