Solving a Decades-Old Mystery: 1980 ‘Disco Dress’ Lake Erie Jane Doe Finally Identified

The Woman Behind the Mystery: How Forensic Science and Dogged Investigation Revealed the Identity of the Woman Found on Lake Erie’s Shore

Megan Ashley


Disco Dress Photo (Source)

March 30th, 1980, marked a dark day in the history books of Lake Erie, Ohio. That morning, the Sandusky Police responded to a call about a bizarre object floating at the lake’s edge. As they approached Cedar Point, officers realized the gravity of the situation. Backup was requested, and the area was cordoned off from nosy residents. Unfortunately, there is limited information about the discovery.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Sandusky Police Department found the body of a young woman, aged twenty to thirty, around five feet tall, one hundred and twenty pounds, and wearing what they described as a ‘disco style’ dress slumped at the edge of Lake Erie. The discovery rocked the community, and investigators immediately set about identifying their victim. Unfortunately, this initial piece of the investigation would never come to be. The Sandusky Police did not release the woman’s manner of death, which remains a point of contention.

An autopsy revealed the woman had several broken bones; her femur, pelvis, and jaw were all broken. However, the medical examiner couldn’t be sure if the injuries had happened pre or post-mortem.

Several press releases and conferences were held, but nobody recognized the young woman in the size twelve disco dress. The case immediately went stale; her body had no scars, jewelry pieces, or other identifying features. In time, the woman was buried as the Erie County Jane Doe; there was no date of birth to adorn her grave, just March 30th, 1980.

The Sandusky Police Department never gave up on the Erie County Jane Doe, but with limited evidence and resources, the case could not progress. It would take decades for the name Erie County Jane Doe to appear in the media again, but there was good news this time. In late 2021, the Porchlight Project, a non-profit organization that helps to fund cases, announced they were willing to pay for new DNA testing in the Erie County Jane Doe case.