How Pima County Jane Doe Was Identified After 3 Decades

One of our loved ones going missing may not be a fear we all share on a consistent basis, but it's a situation no one wants to or should have to go through. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, over 600,000 thousand people go missing, and 4,400 thousand unidentified bodies are recovered each year in the United States, with around 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after the first year.

With such startling statistics, it's a little easier to imagine the very real possibility of something happening to someone familiar to you, and the not-knowing what becomes of them could be the worst part. Unfortunately, that's precisely what Bill Gerow Jr. went through for almost four decades after his older sister, Brenda Gerow, left the city of Nashua, New Hampshire, with her boyfriend in search of adventure and a new life.

The body of a young woman was found just outside Tucson

On April 8, 1981, the body of a young woman was found in the desert of Pima County, Arizona, near the fairgrounds just outside the city of Tucson. Though evidence was taken from the scene and a rough sketch was released to the public, the victim's identity remained unknown according to Life Daily. Eventually, the body was buried and labeled a "Jane Doe," which the Merriam-Webster definition states is "a woman who is party to legal proceedings and whose true name is unknown or withheld."

According to WMUR, in 2012, with new funding and more advanced technology, the body was exhumed, and her skull was used for facial recognition. Newly recovered evidence connected the victim to a man named John "Jack" Kalhauser. This new connection turned out to be a break in the case as it led detectives to discover the identity of the body they found at this point, over three decades ago. The body belonged to 21-year-old Brenda Gerow from Nashua, New Hampshire.

Who is Brenda Gerow?

Brenda Gerow was a vibrant young woman and according to The Sun her father, William Gerow, said that he thought she had just runoff. Brenda and her brother, Bill Gerow Jr., grew up in the foster care system and were often separated from one another, but they still maintained a close sibling relationship. Once grown and able to find work, Brenda worked at a busy biker bar in her hometown of Nashua, New Hampshire where she met Jack Kalhauser.

The pair fell fast for each other, and eventually, Brenda spent the morning with her brother having breakfast before she pierced his ear herself, added a gold stud to it, and promised she'd bring him back a better earring as she was leaving Nashua that day according to "Anatomy of Murder." Brenda was headed to the Southwest, searching for anything unfamiliar and away from Nashua. Before long, she headed out on the back of Kalhauser's motorcycle, leaving her hometown and her family behind her.

Who is Jack Kalhauser?

John "Jack" Kalhauser was the boyfriend that whisked Brenda away on the back of his motorcycle, but that wasn't all he was. Years after the discovery of Brenda's unidentified body, in 1995, authorities were investigating the case of a missing woman in Tucson, Arizona, named Diane Van Reeth, when suspicions grew regarding her estranged husband, who she had just filed for divorce from. Her husband went by the name "Donald J. Stecchi" and was recently told to move out of their home in Winterhaven, according to Tucson Citizen.

While investigating, police learned that Donald J. Stecchi was a fake name and his real name was actually Jack Kalhauser, and he was wanted for attempted murder in the state of New Hampshire, according to Tucson Citizen. Once in custody, police went through Kahlahuser's belongings and found an old photograph of a young woman holding flowers. The woman in the photo had a striking resemblance to the "Jane Doe" that two hunters had found by the Pima County fairgrounds in 1981.

Brenda went with Jack to the Southwest wanting to escape her hometown

Brenda Gerow met Jack Kalhauser while working at a biker bar in New Hampshire and couldn't have known then the impact he would have on her life. The pair became inseparable, and eventually, Jack convinced Brenda to head Southwest with him. After several months, a distraught Brenda called her brother Bill from Arizona, and told him she was coming home with no explanation as to why and this was the last time anyone in Brenda's family spoke to her, according to "Anatomy of Murder." 

Years later, when Kalhauser was under investigation for murdering his estranged wife in Tucson, Arizona, a photo of Brenda was on his person though he refused to identify who it was to authorities. It wasn't until Brenda's body was exhumed and new evidence found in 2012 that police were able to connect the unidentified body with the woman in the photo. Kalhauser, who was convicted of murdering his wife, Diane Van Reeth, in 1999, is still a suspect in the Gerow case but has never been charged with the crime, according to Life Daily.

Brenda's killer has not been brought to justice

In 1981 when Brenda Gerow's body was found in the Pima County desert, it would remain a "Jane Doe" for 34 years. Unfortunately, forensic evidence in the early 1980s wasn't anywhere near as advanced as it is today. According to Forensics Colleges, DNA matching wasn't even around until the mid-1980s. This left thousands of cases, including Brenda's, with a lot of dead-end leads and a lack of evidence.

Brenda's body was exhumed and identified, and her remains were returned to her family after more than three decades since they last saw her. Though Kalhauser was not formally charged with Brenda's murder, he was charged for the murder of his wife, whose body has never been located, according to Tucson Citizen.

These days, forensics has come a long way, including the ever-growing Rapid DNA analysis program that holds and maintains a database of DNA created by law enforcement when a person is arrested and booked, according to the FBI. In the 1980s, men like Kalhauser had an easier time disappearing with just a simple name change. Unfortunately, while Brenda Gerow's family can now stop wondering what happened to her — her killer has yet to be brought to justice for taking her life.