Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
CASSELMAN — It’s the cold case that never entirely freezes over: The mysterious case of the Nation River Lady (NRL), largely decomposed when found floating face down but once pretty in pink toe and fingernail polish.
That’s the name given over the past 45 years to a woman discovered by a farmer wrapped and bound — and dead — in the South Nation River south of Casselman and close to the Highway 417 bridge that speculation has it she was tossed from. The length of time she was in the river was never determined.
Every few years, the case resurfaces, usually due to the Ontario Provincial Police seeking tips and possible new leads. Countless composite sketches and even a 3-D facial reconstruction have been released over the years, along with photos of items found with the body, including dentures.
To date, there’s been no luck in solving the mystery despite receiving several tips worth pursuing. Some 300 missing persons reports have been examined without being linked to the victim.
In the latest NRL revival, a Reddit poster examining data supplied by the U.S. based DNA Doe Project — which uses genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Does — is predicting the Casselman murder victim will be “reunited with her name” very soon.
While not discounting the claim by user majowa2000 on the popular online forum, OPP Media Relations Manager Bill Dickson told NVN he has no information about it and, to his knowledge, the DNA Doe Project isn’t working with police on the file. Officially, there are no new leads on the case, Dickson stated.
A volunteer organization, DDP calls itself the go-to DNA tracers for law enforcement agencies and medical examiners. While most of its cases are in the U.S., it looked into NRL because of its proximity and possible cross-border connections.
The organization boasts “amazing success” even with cases where DNA was highly degraded or of low quality. Relying on donations and even sale of DDP merch such as mugs, water bottles, stickers, t-shirts and tote bags, DDP maintains its goal is to reunite John and Jane Does with their families.
The group has pointed out that, thanks to a change in the terms of reference of GEDmatch which provides applications for comparing DNA results, Doe cases are getting many more matches than previously, with some unknown victims destined to be identified early this year.
DDP publicly shares comparative DNA data updates for multiple unsolved cases via its Facebook page.
In the case on NRL, when her profile was uploaded to FamilyTreeDNA by DDP, it was discovered she shared a “massive” 445 centimorgan (unit of genetic measurement) of DNA with someone else in the database, likely a first cousin or one once removed, placing her “within touching distance” of being identified, according to the Reddit poster.
However, DDP itself is not confirming that user’s assertion. “The poster only knows what the highest cM match is … He is inferring the relationship,” the organization told NVN. “And has no way of knowing whether we have identified the top match or their own family tree. We have cases with far closer matches, but the match may be adopted. If there are no documents around the adoption we might never learn their true identity.”
Beyond the numbers, the organization says it otherwise makes no comment on cases. “We never want to compromise an investigation.”
But majowa2000 — identifying himself as Matthew Waterfield of Leeds, UK — described the 445 match as a “slam dunk” in light of the victim’s European heritage. He added that his confidence is based on several years’ experience in genetic genealogy, though he conceded not making such predictions before, when NVN reached out via private message on Reddit.
Waterfield, who has also posted a recent YouTube video on the subject, wrote he would be “genuinely be stunned if an identification isn’t made by the end of the year, even if it isn’t made public for a while.”
It’s been a long, lonely story for NRL. The Caucasian woman age 25-50 years, between 5’2” and 5’8” in height, average build, about 100 pounds, with brown hair dyed reddish brown was wrapped in two pieces of green cloth and two towels. Her hands and feet were bound with three neckties.
She was wearing a navy blue, long-sleeved body suit, she had an appendix scar, webbed toes, and wore partial upper and lower dentures. Her manicured nails were painted pink. Found with the body were a J-cloth, black coaxial cable — believed to have been used to strangle her — and a curtain rod runner.
A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to identification of NRL and her killer; a dedicated NRL tipline is still in service at 613-591-2296.
This story has been edited to clarify that a Reddit user is predicting the NRL will soon be identified — based on that person’s judgment of the DNA data recently released by DDP. This article was edited again to include the comments of that user, Matthew Waterfield.
With files from Nelson Zandbergen