PAW PAW TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Police are asking for the public’s help to figure out how an Oklahoma woman made it to southwest Michigan in 1988, where her body was found along I-196.
The remains found by a hunter in Covert Township in 1988 were recently identified as those of Marcia Kaylynn Bateman, 28, of Oklahoma City.
“We would love to find that family member or friend that maybe was a friend of hers, that can lead us to who actually picked her up,” MSP Detective Scott Ernstes said at a Monday press conference. “So if you knew Marcia back then or she looks familiar in any way, we’re asking that you contact us.”
MSP also wants to hear from anyone who was in the area of I-196 near County Road 378 near Covert, or at any nearby campgrounds or parks, between August and October 1988 and saw Bateman or anything out of the ordinary.
“You never know what small little detail could actually help us solve this,” Ernstes said.
Anyone with information is asked to call MSP at 844.642.8384 or email MSP-51TIPS@michigan.gov.
Bateman doesn’t appear to have any connections to Michigan or the surrounding states, so investigators don’t know why she was here.
Investigators said Bateman was known to hitchhike, use drugs and may have been a prostitute, which investigators say could have put her in a dangerous position. It’s possible she had mental health challenges, family said.
She was reported missing in August 1988. Her body was found Oct. 12. It’s possible that she was in Dallas or Los Angeles to see family before arriving in Michigan.
Ernstes would not state the cause of Bateman’s death, saying only that “based on the totality of everything that it’s definitely suspicious and there’s something that happened.”
There were no suspects in the case as of Monday.
“Whenever you start an investigation, you start with trying to figure out basically what’s called a victimology. You work through who the victim is,” Ernstes said. “Well, for the past 30-some years, they didn’t know who the victim was, so we couldn’t even start at square one. So now that we know who she is, that’s where we’re going to start, is who knew the victim, who she was hanging around, what she was up to, and that a lot of times leads us to what happened to her.”
For years, Bateman was known only as ‘196 Jane’ as investigators worked to identify her without success. Then in April, MSP submitted DNA to be compared against DNA listed in a public genealogy database. There was a possible match in only five weeks.
Investigators were fairly certain the remains were that of Bateman in August. They then reached out to her loved ones in Oklahoma City and confirmed with another DNA test in early November that it was her.
Bateman’s mother died before learning her daughter had been found. Ernstes said Bateman’s aunt was “very, very thankful” to get some answers.
“Her sister (Bateman’s mother) never got the opportunity to know this,” Ernstes said. “She said it was really hard on her sister for many years, always wondering what happened to (Bateman). …Not knowing what happened to a loved one is probably the worst.”
He said the time gap in the case could be a hindrance or a help in the investigation because people’s allegiances change — someone who may not have been willing to speak in 1988 may be willing to do so now. He said the bigger challenge is distance, which also likely stymied investigators in Oklahoma City when Bateman was reported missing.
MSP is looking at using genealogy testing to identify six other missing persons cases in southwest Michigan.
The DNA testing process for Bateman cost $1,850. Kalamazoo Mortgage, which supports other police initiatives, donated the funds to foot the bill. The nonprofit DNA Doe Project did the genealogy research for free.
MSP is taking over funding for the six other cases.
“Forensic genealogy … is going to be game changer for law enforcement,” Ernstes said. “It’s already started.”
A suspect in the Golden State Killer case was arrested through forensic genealogy.
Genealogy sites ask users to opt in or opt out of allowing their DNA to be provided to law enforcement agencies. Ernstes urged people to opt in.
But there are privacy concerns about using such sites to solve crimes.