PORTSMOUTH, OH (WOWK) – Investigators have made a major break in an Arizona cold case from over 50 years ago by identifying the victim as a woman who was originally from Scioto County, Ohio.

The case ran cold to identify a Jane Doe found murdered in an Arizona desert in 1971 but was reopened in 2021 hoping new technology would help investigators learn who the woman was. Now, 52 years after her body was found, investigators have identified the victim as Colleen Audrey Rice, who was born in Portsmouth, Ohio.

According to the Mohave County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Office, the homicide case was first opened on Jan. 23, 1971, when a woman’s body was found near Hackberry Road, a dirt road just over two miles east of US 93 in a desert area of Mohave County, Arizona.

The woman’s body was found in a canvas sack that had been tied with a white cotton rope. Investigators described the sack as white cotton and loosely woven, with the words “Deer-Pack Ames Harris Neville Co.” printed in green.

An artist’s depiction of what Colleen Audrey Rice might have looked like at the time of her death. (Credit: MCSO)

The case into the Jane Doe was reopened by the MCSO in 2021, says lead cold case investigator Lori Miller with the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators used dental records, fingerprints, and even clothing brands to try to identify her, but could not find an exact ID for the woman.

Investigators say in April 2022, they partnered with Texas-based genomics company Othram Inc. to try using genealogy to track down any living relatives the woman may have.

Portsmouth High School photo of Colleen Rice, of Portsmouth, Ohio, who has been identified as the Jane Doe found in Mohave County, Arizona on Jan. 23, 1971. (Photo Courtesy: Mohave County, AZ, Sheriff’s Office)

Investigators say they uploaded the woman’s information to several ancestral websites, and a genealogist then spent hundreds of hours working to build the woman’s family tree. Miller said the tree “turned out to be quite large,” and stemmed from parts of Ohio and Kentucky.

Through the investigation, authorities found a woman named Colleen Audrey Rice who had been unaccounted for since 1946. Investigators say they then used the genealogy information to find a living relative of Rice and through DNA confirmed that the remains were those of the unaccounted-for Colleen Rice.

Investigators say Rice was born March 17, 1931, in Portsmouth, Ohio, to James C. Rice and Flossie Truitt. Rice attended Portsmouth High School and, in 1946, married a man named William Davis. Investigators also say Rice was estranged from her family, so there is little known information about her life or how she came to be in Arizona.

Investigators have not released information on how Rice died or on any suspects in the case.

The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona is continuing the investigation and Miller says she has also been in contact with the original lead investigator from when the case first opened in 1971.

Miller says one of the challenges they’re facing right now is finding people who knew Rice or may have been around when the incident happened.

Anyone with any information on Rice, including anyone who may have known her or known of her in Southern Ohio or Eastern Kentucky is asked to contact the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office at 928-753-0753 ext. 4408, or to call the toll-free number at 1-800-522-4312 and reference DR# 71-0383.