Bensalem Detective Chris McMullin, DNA helps ID ‘Bucks County’s Jane Doe’ after 36 years

by Tianna G. Hansen

This is a continuation of the story from our May edition.

Chris McMullin continued his cold case hunt, consumed with giving a name to “the Publicker Jane Doe” – one ‘starfish’ among many in a massive ocean of unsolved cases.

This task would take a community, and 33 years of intense police work.

St. Mary Medical Center donated a CAT Scan to the police department in 2007, through which they were able to render a new image of “Bucks County’s Jane Doe” as she may look in life.

“I tried everything I could think of,” Chris says. But the hunt for Lisa Todd’s identity kept going cold.

In early 2020, the case nearly broke when Bensalem Township Director Fred Harran made arrangements with BODE Labs, out of Virginia, to perform a DNA extraction. “When Chris came to me with Publicker Jane Doe… BODE offered to do it gratis for us,” Fred said.

It took a few months to extract enough DNA to upload onto GEDmatch, an open-source DNA profile database.

“As technology continues to expand, working with GEDmatch, 23andMe and really helps identify missing people,” Fred says. “There are cases throughout the country who are now being identified.”

However, there weren’t any matches on the database. Undeterred, Chris reached out to Yolanda McClary, who had previously contacted him regarding the Publicker case. Yolanda is a renowned professional genealogist and retired CSI from Las Vegas who recently produced a TV series called Jane Doe Murders in early 2021.

“[BODE] deemed her unsolvable at that point, which is a correct and good decision, so Chris reached out to us and asked us what we thought,” Yolanda recalls. “We looked at it and determined they were right, but told Chris we would keep monitoring it.”

Yolanda and her partner played with the Jane Doe’s profile, testing new algorithms and re-entering her into the database until nearly nine months later, in January, they finally popped up with five potential matches – something they could work with.

Yolanda and one of her genealogists started piecing together the family tree of Bucks County’s Jane Doe based off these five people.

It took nearly four days of sleepless nights and straight work to compile the family tree and track down two siblings for the Jane Doe. Compared with the DNA that was uploaded to BODE Labs, these were her mitochondrial matches (siblings). Her parents had passed, leaving no nuclear DNA matches.

“It was long, intensive work but we knew we were on a good track,” Yolanda says. “[After], I called Detective McMullin and [told him] we believe we know where she belongs.”

The hunt for her identity was beyond frustrating up until that point. Several factors went into making it all the more difficult to ID Lisa Todd – she was a minor at the time of her death, removed from the missing persons database at the time of her 18th birthday, so there was no real record on her. Even as Yolanda pieced her family tree together, Lisa had no footprint.

Chris was met with the bittersweet task of alerting the family. He tracked down the siblings in Philadelphia and met her brother first.

“When I asked him if he ever had a sister who disappeared, he said, ‘yes, she disappeared in 1985.’ I asked, what was her name, and he said, ‘Lisa.’”

Now, the team who spent decades hunting for her identity can bring her “home” and give closure to her family.

“Lisa will now be put to rest under a headstone with her name on it instead of ‘Jane Doe,’” Chris says. “That’s important to me.”

Chris would also later meet with Lisa’s son, who was only about 2 years old when she passed.

Nearly a week after first alerting Lisa’s brother to the news, Chris received a text on a Sunday evening: “I just want you to know I really appreciate everything you did.”

“It’s truly priceless to bring closure to a family, even after 33 years,” said Director Fred Harran.

Lisa Todd, “Bucks County’s Jane Doe,” is just one small “starfish” who’s been able to find her identity. Throughout the course of seeking her ID, Chris also identified another Bensalem Jane Doe, Jeanette Tambe, who disappeared in 1984.

“I hope to identify more [Jane Does] soon,” he says.

The hunt is still on to uncover what happened to Lisa Todd all those years ago. Anyone with information into her disappearance is asked to contact the Bensalem Police Department at 215-633-3700, or their Anonymous Tip Line at 215-633-3660.

As more people upload their DNA to open-source databases, it continues to make a difference helping identify cold case victims. There’s no telling what your DNA might uncover.

While it may take an eternity to send every lost starfish home, in this instance it’s made waves of difference for those missing and their families, thanks to a caring, dedicated community and a Bensalem detective who’s made it his mission.

PHOTO CAP: A forensic sculpture bust of “Bucks County’s Jane Doe” created by Frank Bender, alongside a photo of Lisa Todd. Credit: Chris McMullin.

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