Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee — an enduring murder mystery after 50 years
Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee was found dead in Central Florida on February 19, 1971. Two hitchhikers discovered the body from a highway overpass in Lake Panasoffkee Florida. After 49 years, the case remains one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. The victim had been dead for at least a month. She was between 17 and 24 years old. The victim was strangled, and she wore several items of jewelry. The victim was believed to be dressed in green plaid pants, a matching green shirt and a
Despite almost five decades of international media attention, multiple investigations, an exhumation of the body and numerous forensic analyses, the woman has never been positively identified nor her killer brought to justice.
Six months after being found, the body of the woman known as Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee was interred at Oak Grove Cemetery in Wildwood, Florida, with a nondescript metal marker reading: “Jane Doe — 1971.”
Six months after being found, the woman’s body was interred at Oak Grove Cemetery in Wildwood, Florida, with a nondescript metal marker reading: “Jane Doe — 1971.”
No next of kin ever came forward to claim the woman’s body.
Body exhumed in 1986
The case gained renewed attention in the mid-1980s after then-Sumter County Sheriff Jamie Adam reopened the case and obtained a court order to exhume the body 15 years after her death.
Miss Lake Panasoffkee was exhumed on Feb. 18, 1986.
By that time, investigators had developed new techniques in facial reconstruction that they hoped would help them identify the woman and potentially solve the case.
Betty Pat Gatliff, a foremost medical illustrator and consultant for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, agreed to assist the investigation and was given the task of reconstructing the woman’s face to show how she would look in current times.
Gatliff first made forensic drawings based on the dimensions of the skull and then plotted a clay model to the same scale, reports show.
In 1988, Linda Galeener, a forensic artist with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tallahassee, also made a sketch of the woman as she would have appeared when she was killed, according to reports.
Galeener also made sketches of the victim as she would have appeared at age 12 and age 6, a process known as age regression, which was a pioneering forensic technique at the time.
Galeener consulted with anthropologists and other forensic experts to create several haunting sketches of the girl, some she depicted with a 1960s hairstyle.
The drawings are varied, and some appear to depict women of different physical features and backgrounds.
Investigators had hoped that one of the woman’s childhood friends or neighbors or teachers would recognize her after distributing the drawings to law enforcement agencies around the country.
But those leads never turned out, either.
The new investigation, however, wasn’t entirely fruitless.
Miss Panasoffkee’s exhumation revealed several new unexpected clues about the victim that were overlooked in the initial 1971 autopsy.
William Maples, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida, who examined the body the second time around, found that the young woman was likely of Indian descent, had undergone a recent Watson Jones orthopedic ligament reconstruction surgery on her right ankle, and that she may have also given birth to two children.
In 1989, then-Sumter County Sheriff Adams told the Ocala Star-Banner that “I firmly believe this case is going to be solved in the media... I’m a father and it would bother me if I had a child who was missing. Somewhere, somebody knows this kid.”
Early suspect vanishes
Undeterred, Sheriff Adams went as far as hiring a private investigator to look into the murder alongside police investigators.
The independent probe initially focused on a suspect who had been arrested in the same vicinity as the woman’s body, but in the weeks before the gruesome discovery.
According to a report in the Star-Banner, that suspect was nearly run over one night by a sheriff’s patrol car while crossing the median of I-75 within a mile of where the body was eventually found. A police report said the man had a pistol in his possession at the time of his arrest.
According to reports, the independent investigator said he believed the man’s arrest fit the timeline, but authorities didn’t immediately make the connection, and the man was never seen again nor questioned about the body in Lake Panasoffkee.
Other theories emerge
Through the years, many theories have emerged about the case.
Another exhumation and examination of the remains was conducted in 2012, and established that Miss Panasoffkee was of European descent.
Further analysis of the woman’s hair determined that she may have arrived in the United States from between a year and two months before her death, according to news reports.
In 2012, Sumter County Sheriff's Office Detective Darren Norris teamed up with a Tampa forensic anthropologist to update depictions of the woman known as Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee. The effort developed the most complete picture yet of the victim.
Based on the new evidence, renderings were updated to include new facial features and depictions of the clothing she had been wearing.
Next, George Kamenov, a scientist at the University of Florida, examined the remains and determined the teeth carried unique traits distinct to people from Lavrion, a small fishing port southeast of Athens.
One theory floated was that she had possibly traveled to the United States to attend a Greek Orthodox celebration known as Epiphany — which annually attracts thousands to the coastal community of Tarpon Springs.
Detectives in Sumter County speculated whether the killer could have been a member of the sprawling Greek community in nearby Clearwater, Tarpon Springs or New Port Richey, according to reports. But this lead, too, led to another dead end.
A girl named Konstantina
Other accounts say the woman may have been in the United States as part of a student work exchange program.
A woman came forward on a Greek crime show more than 41 years after the crime, claiming that one of the younger sketches of the murdered woman resembled a girl she knew in childhood as Konstantina.
The woman said she and Konstantina attended prep school together in Greece. After graduation, she said, they entered the exchange program and were required to work abroad to fulfill a two-year obligation for their education. The program was sponsored by the International Organization for Migration.
The woman said she was sent to Australia, and that Konstantina had been sent to America. The friend said she lost touch with Konstantina around the same time that the body was found in Lake Panasoffkee in 1971.
As of this report, authorities have not been able to confirm the woman’s story as they cannot locate any of Konstantina’s relatives, if they exist at all.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a profile of Miss Panasoffkee, under the heading of Jane Doe 1971.
Today, the case appears no closer to being solved.
ArLuther Lee writes national and world news for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida and has worked for newspapers for more than 24 years. He joined the AJC staff as the front page designer in 2003.