Earlier this month, the community, led by the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, held a graveside ceremony for Tammy Jo Alexander, formerly known as ‘Caledonia Jane Doe’ who was brutally shot in the head at the age of 16 in 1979 and left unidentified until earlier this year. Yesterday was Father’s day, my first in which I celebrate being a proud Dad. As I celebrated the special day, my thoughts circled back to Tammy Jo Alexander and the images from her graveside ceremony.
It was a profoundly disturbing image to see those that let 16-year-old Tammy Jo Alexander down the most standing by her newly marked grave. A relative said it best: Tammy Jo Alexander deserved better. My thoughts are that she deserved better from her friends and family. The painful point needs to be made, as it might help prevent future Jane Doe’s.
Also standing at the gravesite of the Florida teen was her longtime crusader, former Sheriff York. The look on his face spoke volumes. After decades of selfless service on the case, the story of the unidentified ‘Caledonia Jane Doe’ came down to a matter of friends and family who apparently did not care enough to search for or pursue their missing young teen, from whom they never heard again.
There is a large gap in time since friends and family last saw Tammy Jo and the time her body was found in a Caledonia, back in 1979. For 35 years, Tammy Jo would be known as ‘Caledonia Jane Doe.’ For 35 years family members guessed, assumed, and hoped that she was living somewhere happily ever after.
What’s disturbing to me, and I’m sure upsetting to others as well, is that some of Tammy Jo’s family members have made an unverified claim that the family filed a missing persons report, and that law enforcement must have lost it or chosen not to follow up on it. Tammy Jo’s parents are now dead, but we know they lived troubled lives, with criminal histories and addiction issues. Blaming law enforcement for not following up is atrocious.
The only people that failed Tammy Jo were her friends and family – not law enforcement. They had 35 years to file a missing persons report, and to follow up on it, and to nag police, and to follow up, and to refile and refile again, if action hadn’t been taken or the report got “lost.” As parents or family, in a similar situation we would leave no stone unturned. To do otherwise is unthinkable.
Meanwhile, the dedicated officers of the Livingston County Sheriffs Office, under Sheriff York’s leadership, chased down every possible lead in the search for the identity, and the killer, of this young girl, viciously murdered by a bullet and dumped in a Caledonia corn field.
But this is not just about being critical of the friends and family of Tammy Jo. Presumably, those still taking air will live the rest of their lives with doubts about their inaction, and about what they could have done differently. This is directed more at the parents and friends and family members of future Tammy Jo’s: never give up, and never assume that everything is okay.
The troubled face of former Livingston County Sheriff John York said it all. I join many people in disappointment, disbelief, and heartbreak for that beautiful young girl who was, in the end, not only brutally murdered but also forgotten by her family.
A marked stone now lies above Tammy Jo’s remains. As a father I would, as would most others, leave no stone unturned in search of our child to ensure their safety.