Expert breaks down DNA technique used to identify Opelika’s Baby Jane Doe

The forensics company that helped solve the case has been around since 2018 and have used a unique technique to solve thousands of cold cases across the country.
Expert breaks down DNA technique used to identify Opelika’s Baby Jane Doe
Expert breaks down DNA technique used to identify Opelika’s Baby Jane Doe
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 11:33 AM EST
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CORRECTION: This article has been updated to include more companies involved in the process of identifying Opelika’s Baby Jane Doe and tracking down her parents.

Opelika police have been working to learn the child’s identity for more than a decade with no success but thanks to new technology they were able to learn not just her identity but also that of her parents.

A technique that’s been used to solve thousands of cold cases across the country was the key to getting more answers about the little girl.

“This little child was voiceless. She was truly voiceless. She was not missing. No one had reported her missing,” said Kristen Mittleman, Chief Development Officer of Othram, a forensics company.

11 years ago, Opelika police found skeletal remains of a little girl in a trailer park. Detectives say her head was separated from her body and most of her bones were found in the woods.

With no clue who she was, she became known as ‘Baby Jane Doe.’ That’s until thousands of tips, like one from Opelika Pastor Clifford Jones, started pouring in.

He remembers seeing the little girl at vacation bible study.

“I do recall the little girl because I do remember her eye being deformed and I was able to remember her from that,” said Pastor Clifford.

But, that’s about all Reverend Jones recalls outside of this photo he says was taken in their gym.

“Our vacation bible school usually runs about a week and I have no idea, as I said, whether she came here every day, but I know she came here at least one day,” Pastor Jones adds.

Without any solid leads, the search to identify the little girl led police to a forensics company in Texas known as Othram.

“The DNA was so bad for so many factors -- it was found outside, there’s contamination, there’s all these things that happened, there was malnutrition,” said the forensics company’s Chief Development Officer, Kristen Mittleman.

Autopsy reports revealed the child had been abused at some point prior to her death. A medical examiner also determined she was blind in her left eye due a fracture in her eye socket.

Using her skeletal remains, scientists at Othram were able to create a profile of her DNA. Scientists at another company known as Astrea used strands of curly hair found at the scene to create another profile. Both profiles were then uploaded online to Family Tree DNA and GedMatch. Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter, owner of Firebird Forensics Group, then used those family trees to track down the child’s parents and eventually identify her.

“It’s incredible. We been able to identify victims from 1881, Identify perpetrators from only the equivalent of 15 human cells, point one two nanograms. If I touch my hand, I’ve left hundreds of cells,” Mittleman adds.

Thursday, the name of the child and her parents were finally released to the public -- Amore Wiggins, who at the time of her death was in the custody of her father, Lamar Vickerstaff and his wife, Ruth.

“One day we’ll live in a world where perpetrators realize that if they commit a crime, they’re going to get caught. And they’ll think twice before they do so.”

The case is not closed. Amore’s father and step mother are set to be extradited back to Lee County soon and appear in court. Opelika Police still need your help learning more about their relationship with Amore. Anyone with information is asked to call Opelika Police Department at 334-705-5220.