"Mountain Jane Doe" identified nearly 50 years after murder in Harlan County

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HARLAN, Ky. (WYMT) - Nearly half a century after a woman was found stabbed to death near Little Shepherd Trail in Harlan County, authorities tell us they finally know her name.

DNA testing indicates Sonja Kaye Blair-Adams, originally from Letcher County, was the woman found and buried in Harlan County in the summer of 1969, police said Wednesday.

Blair-Adams's name remained a mystery for years. Buried with a grave marker that simply said "unidentified girl", she came to be known in the area as "Mountain Jane Doe."

“I remember this case since I was a little kid being raised here in Harlan County,” said Kentucky State Police Detective William Howard.

Karen Stipes, the victim's daughter, contacted Kentucky State Police and local officials to let them know the 1969 Jane Doe may be her mother.

“It’s very rewarding to know that I can bring closure to a family, but you still want to go further with it,” said Howard.

In Nov. 2014, WYMT was in Harlan when officials tried to exhume Blair-Adams's body. It was later discovered they were digging in the wrong place and had exhumed the wrong body.

Officials were able to locate the correct body and send it to the University of North Texas for DNA testing. A DNA sample from Stipes was used to make the identification.

"It's almost surreal at this point," Harlan County coroner Philip Bianchi said. "It's a very rare circumstance and it's something that we're seeing more across the country because of the technology that's available to law enforcement, coroners, medical examiners today."

Howard hopes this break in the case helps police figure out who fatally stabbed Blair-Adams.

Police believe Blair-Adams was 21 at the time of her death. The coroner is in the process of correcting the death certificate to say her name instead of “unknown.” Anyone with information is asked to call Kentucky State Police Post 10 at 606-573-3131.

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