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The Belle in the Well

Louise Peterson's high school photo, the only known photo of her in life

In 2019, The DNA Doe Project solved their hardest case to date.  Lee and Anthony Redgrave, team leaders for this DNA Doe Project case at the time, traveled to Ironton, Ohio to c0-present at a press conference revealing the identity of Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, who until July 29, 2019, was known only as “the Belle in the Well.”  This solve took the DDP team over 10,000 hours of effort from more than 30 volunteers over 14 months. This resolution gives us hope for every difficult case that forensic genealogists take on.

Anthony Redgrave explains the process of identification using forensic genealogy

The Belle In The Well was discovered in an Ohio cistern in April of 1981.  Her clothing, personal items in her pockets, age estimation and facial approximations did not lead to her identification, and she went unidentified for 38 years.  She was one of the first cases taken on by the DNA Doe Project, and by far the most complicated.  Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, born in 1915, would have been 65 years old when she was placed in the cistern by as-yet-unknown perpetrators.  While she was born near to where she was found, she had not lived there for some time and had only recently returned to the area before her death.

NamUs #UP6259 before being closed. Source: NamUs.gov

The Belle in the Well was the first unidentified person that forensic anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Murray entered into the NamUs database on November 25, 2009 as #UP6259.  Team Belle had looked at her profile time and time again over the course of 14 months, trying to draw comparisons between potential identifications, and her identifying features and circumstances of recovery. 

Dr. Elizabeth Murray gets investigator Bill Nenni ready to close #UP6259 on NamUs.org with Dr. Margaret Press of the DNA Doe Project

When an unidentified person is identified, or a missing person is located, their case is closed on NamUs and their profile is no longer public. At the very end of the press conference, Dr. Murray gave investigator Bill Nenni the privilege of closing #UP6259. It was a simple act that carried with it a flood of emotional release and hope for future Doe cases.  Bill had spent his entire career doing everything in his ability to identify Louise.  His father was the Coroner who signed her original death certificate.

If a person searches NamUs for #UP6259 today, they find nothing.  The Belle in the Well’s home on the internet is gone, but now she is known for who she truly was.  We hope that those who knew her will remember her, and perhaps even have information that leads to the identification of whoever killed her.

#UP6259 is no longer needed
Left to right, Anthony Redgrave, Lee Bingham Redgrave, Investigator Bill Nenni, Dr. Margaret Press, Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick

If you have ever taken a genealogical DNA test, please consider uploading your raw data to GEDmatch and opt-in to law enforcement matching.  Even a distant cousin relationship could be the key to identifying a Doe.  If you need help getting your raw data from a direct-to-consumer website and uploading it to GEDmatch, instructions are available at help.FG4LE.com.

During the live stream of the press conference, many viewers noted that the audio was difficult to hear. Mysterious WV has graciously provided an updated video of the full press conference with improved audio.

Additionally, you may view a PDF of the presentation slides, and transcript of the forensic genealogy component of the presentation.

If anyone knows anything about the last whereabouts of Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher, or any information on who is responsible for her death, please call the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office anonymous tip line at 740-532-3525 or email helpthesheriff@lawcoso.com.