'The Jane Doe Murders': Who is Yolanda McClary? Meet the real-life inspiration for Catherine Willows in 'CSI'

McClary first rose to prominence when it was revealed that Marg Helgenberger's character, Catherine Willows, in 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation', was based on her


                            'The Jane Doe Murders': Who is Yolanda McClary? Meet the real-life inspiration for Catherine Willows in 'CSI'
Yolanda McClary (Oxygen)

Oxygen's latest crime special is remarkably different from the usual slate of true-crime shows. 'The Jane Doe Murders', as its name suggests focuses on unidentified victims, using forensic technology and DNA databases to help local law enforcement solve a murder case from 23 years ago and reveal the identity of a woman left for dead in the remote woods of Polk County, Oregon. With nothing but bones, Yolanda works feverishly to piece together what happened and potentially uncover clues that can help open new roads in the case.

If the name Yolanda McClary seems familiar, it is because the forensic specialist has been a staple of true-crime television for quite some time. McClary first rose to prominence when it was revealed that Marg Helgenberger's character, Catherine Willows, in 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation', was based on her. Anthony E Zuiker, a young Mirage tram operator and struggling television writer, had shadowed her as she worked on cases. Zuiker, of course, is now best known for creating 'CSI'.

McClary then went on to spend three seasons and a total of 47 episodes co-starring on the TNT reality series 'Cold Justice' — later moved to Oxygen – traveling to different cities across the United States offering her expert analysis on real-life cold cases with former Prosecutor Kelly Siegler. She continued making appearances on Oxygen, appearing with Paul Holes on 'The DNA of Murder'.

Where did Yolanda McClary get her start?

McClary studied at the College of Southern Nevada, graduating with an Associate of Arts degree, following which she attended the American Institute of Applied Science with a forensic science diploma. She then worked with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for 26 years and 16 of those years were dedicated to working in the crime lab.

She has investigated over 7,000 crime scenes which consisted of murders, suicides, accidental deaths, fire deaths, traffic fatalities, robberies, sexual assaults, batteries, domestic violence, narcotics, vice, burglaries, and more.

According to reports, during the last two years of her career with the police, she solely worked on crimes to not only catch the perpetrator but also to be able to link them to multiple cases for prosecution. She investigated these crimes in conjunction with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Henderson Police Department, and the North Las Vegas Police Department.

McClary went on to found the Unknown Doe Project, with which her team helped to identify the unidentified remains found in 1995 in a field outside of Thomasboro, according to WAND-TV. McClary worked with the Champaign County Coroner, and Sheriff to create a genetic genealogy profile of the bones and identified that the victim was a woman named Keri Wyant. 

For Yolanda, however, family remains the most important aspect of her life. When asked during an interview by blogger JR on the most important influence in her life, she answered that it was her daughter, saying, "She has taught me that not everything is as it appears. That just because it’s your opinion, doesn’t make you right. She taught me how to be patient, something I don’t do well."

'The Jane Doe Murders' premieres on Oxygen, on Sunday, January 3, 2021, at 7/6c.

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