Who was Delta Dawn? Toddler who was found dead 38 years ago in Mississippi river identified by DNA technology
Almost 38 years ago, a toddler was found dead in a Mississippi river. Now, after all this time, the child has been identified with the help of DNA technology. However, the toddler’s mother who also disappeared around the same time with her suspect boyfriend is still missing. The little girl who was known as Baby Jane Doe and later nicknamed "Delta Dawn" is actually Alisha Ann Heinrich.
A Daily Mail report states that Alisha was 18 months old when she was found floating in the Escatawpa River in 1982. Authorities have identified the mother as Gwendolyn Mae Clemons who was 23 when she also went missing. According to a statement from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Clemons and Alisha disappeared from the Joplin, Missouri, area around Thanksgiving 1982. They were allegedly with Clemons' boyfriend when they went missing.
Family members allege that Clemons and Alisha left Mississippi with the man, who has not been identified, and were going to Florida. The suspect, who according to family members is now dead, is suspected of allegedly killing Alisha and possibly Clemons. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said the man later returned to Missouri without the mother and baby. “The family were under the assumption that Alisha was alive and living somewhere,” Ezell said. Alisha's body was found in the river a week after they left on Thanksgiving, but Clemons has still not been seen or heard from since her disappearance. “We do not know if she is dead or alive at this point,' said Ezell. 'We’re assuming the worst but we don’t know that for sure.”
With the help of DNA technology and a collaboration with Othram Incorporated, a Houston-based private DNA lab that works with law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases, investigators were able to check Alisha's identity. Catherine Serbousek, a mother-of-two contributed $2,600 toward the cost of the genetic testing that led to Alisha's ID. Serbousek was about eight years old and staying in Arkansas when she first got to know about Delta Dawn on television.
At that point, the case went cold and investigators were looking for new leads. Serbousek, realized she was about the same age as Delta Dawn would have been if she was still alive, said: “Then I thought, well she could have been my friend. She’s just gone, and no one knows who she was.”
According to DNA Solves, since 2002, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has been supporting the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department with analytical and forensic resources. In 2014, a NCMEC forensic artist shaped a facial reconstruction of what the child may have looked like. The image was circulated across social media with anticipations that someone would recognize her. In 2019, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department brought Alisha's remains to Orthram and Othram's forensic scientists were then able to link Alisha's DNA profile to potential family members in Missouri.
Ezell said that “DNA samples were collected from two of Gwendolyn’s family members and sent to NamUs”, which is a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the US. “Our investigators hope the identities will lead to more clues to solve this case. It remains open and active,” Ezell said. “We are asking any law enforcement agency that may have found an unidentified body matching Gwen's description to please contact us,” Ezell added. Ezell informed investigators are also working with family members with hopes of determining who killed Alisha and what happened to Clemons.
These remarks were made by third-person and individual organizations, MEAWW cannot confirm them independently nor does it support these claims. The respective references are linked in the article.