For more than 30 years, the body of a woman found alongside a rural exit ramp in Northampton County, Pa., went unidentified. State police investigators now know her name, but the mystery remains over the Philadelphia resident’s death, officials said Monday.
Detectives recently used a combination of DNA testing and genealogical records to identify the dead woman as Donna Kay Griffin, according to a State Police spokesperson. Griffin was 37 when a road maintenance crew found her body on a grassy berm along Route 33 in Plainfield Township, in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains.
In most cases, identifying a body would prompt a criminal investigation. But Griffin’s death is unusual, according to Trooper First Class Nathan T. Branosky, a public information officer for the state police barracks in nearby Bethlehem. She was never reported missing from her residence in Philadelphia, nor by her extended family in her home state of Georgia.
When investigators contacted them, Griffin’s family — including her child, who became the link to identifying her through genealogical records — didn’t know where she was.
Northampton County District Attorney Terence Houck said Monday that investigators are still interviewing family members, now scattered throughout the country. He said it was still too early to characterize the case as a murder investigation.
“This is a huge step,” Houck said. “We’re still looking at this hard. It gives us some hope that we can figure out what’s going on here.”
The break came during a routine review of unsolved cases, according to Houck. It’s a protocol the state police use regularly, trying investigative techniques that weren’t previously available.
They learned that Griffin had moved to Philadelphia in the 1970s, around the time her family in the South had lost touch with her. During her travels, she used aliases, including the last names “Linton” and “Shelby,” according to state police.
When her body was discovered in 1987 by the PennDot road crew, the county coroner found no obvious signs of trauma, according to an article published at the time in the Allentown Morning Call. Investigators then believed she might have been a “regular rider with truckers,” given the patterns of sunburn on her arm and shoulder, the newspaper said.
The cause of death was never determined, but county records indicate drugs did not play a role.