Crime Trackers: Jane Doe from 1981 identified, person of interes - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Crime Trackers: Jane Doe from 1981 identified, person of interest named

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New information is shedding some light on a 34-year-old cold case involving a Jane Doe.

Pima County Sheriff's detectives have her name, who she was with and where she lived. Detectives said they never gave up. 

“We've been able to identify Jane Doe as Brenda Gerow. She was born and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire," said Det. Mark O'Dell, who had been working the case since 2012. "[She was] about the age of 20 [when] she left Nashua with John Kalhauser.”

They left in 1980 and the two ended up in Tucson. 

“John Kalhauser is a person of interest in this case,” he said.

Kalhauser, 61, is currently serving time for the murder of his estranged wife, Diane Van Reeth.  She disappeared in 1995. At the time Kalhauser was going under a different name, Don Steechi.

O’Dell said new technology and testing of some of the items found back in 1981 led investigators to the grim task of digging up her remains in 2012.

“I was able to set up an exhumation where we were able to take her skull and get a facial reconstruction done,” he said.

Detectives took the evidence uncovered from the exhumation and began piecing together the mystery of Jane Doe. A photograph of Brenda Gerow was a huge break in the case.

“Knowing that the picture had been in John Kalhauser's possession, that showed us that he had some knowledge of who she was,” said O'Dell.

They found the photo in a Tucson Police Department Property and Evidence locker. The photo remained in the locker since TPD detectives investigated the disappearance of Diane Van Reeth in 1995.

The search for answers in Gerow's death led investigators to the East Coast. They sent two pictures to law enforcement agencies, who put it out on Facebook.

“Social media was a big help in helping us identify Brenda," said O’Dell.

Several people came forward and detectives traveled to the East Coast where they interviewed Gerow's family.    

“For the family, it was at first disbelief and then a sense of relief,” said O'Dell.

Detectives obtained pictures of Gerow during their recent trip, which were taken days before Gerow left the area with Kalhauser in 1980. She was at a family gathering and it would be the last.

Nine months later she was brutally murdered. Off-roaders discovered her body near the Pima County Fairgrounds in April 1981. Her jacket was hanging in a tree and she had been sexually assaulted.

O’Dell said she died a very violent death with obvious signs of trauma about her body and head.

Detectives were able to find more information tying Gerow and Kalhauser to Tucson. They lived together in what was once a mobile home park on East Benson Highway. He also had a brother in Tucson who lived on Inez Street on the city's Southside.

O’Dell said Kalhauser came here to escape a dark past.

“He was convicted of murder in 1971, as well as getting trouble with another crime in 1979," he said. "He attempted to murder another person in 1979.”

News 4 Tucson had video of Kalhauser when he returned to Tucson after being extradited to Massachusetts on the attempted murder charge in 1979.  He was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years. 

In Pima County, he pleaded no contest to the murder of his estranged wife in 1999. However, the state legally considered him Diane Van Reeth's killer and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

O’Dell interviewed him in prison. 

“I really don't want to go into what we discussed in order to maintain the integrity of the case,” he said.

Cold case detectives said they still need the public’s help with the Gerow's case.  

“She had to establish herself somehow, someway, whether through working or maybe finding friends that were neighbors to her," said O'Dell.

Detectives said it was a combination of good old-fashion police work, new technology, and luck that brought them this far in their investigation.

They said they won't give up until they can bring Gerow’s family peace and justice. Gerow's remains were released to the family in New Hampshire.

If you have information, call 88-CRIME or 911.

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