Murder victim identified in 33-year-old Kentucky cold case

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The “red-headed Knox County Jane Doe,” as she was known by investigators following the discovery of her body in 1985 at a dump site along Highway 25 east in Knox County, Kentucky, has been identified as Espy Regina Black-Pilgrim. 

Kentucky State Police Post 10 had been working the case for over 33 years.

This cold case was the last of Post 10’s cold case files. Positive identification came through with DNA sampling technology and matching Black-Pilgrim’s children’s DNA with her samplings from the crime scene. 

Black-Pilgrim’s body was found April 1, 1985 at a rural dump site along U.S. 25 east in Knox County, Kentucky, commonly known among locals as Gilliam Hill. Her body was placed in a refrigerator and the initial autopsy revealed she had been murdered. She had red hair and wore two distinct gold necklaces, one with an eagle pendent, the other, a heart pendant. 

Witnesses had reported seeing the unknown female the day prior at a truck stop in Corbin, Kentucky, allegedly trying to catch a ride to North Carolina. Kentucky State Police reached out to the public to identify her and had no leads back then.

The unidentified murdered female, Post 10’s red-headed Knox County Jane Doe, remained a mystery for decades – until October 2017, when potential relatives from North Carolina came forward after seeing a social media post and asked if she could be their missing mother, who had disappeared more than 30 years prior.

Tests were conducted, samples exchanged and sent off for analysis and for several months, everyone waited.

It was confirmed in late 2017 that the samples were a positive match in shared DNA, and Jane Doe was the missing mother from North Carolina, Espy Regina Black-Pilgrim. 

“The family now has some closure to their missing loved one after 33 years,” stated the Kentucky State Police in a press release. “Mrs. Pilgrim was the last unidentified person at Kentucky State Police Post 10.”

Black-Pilgrim’s killer remains unknown.

Leads had been exhausted, but the case is still an ongoing murder investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact Kentucky State Police-Post 10 at (606) 573-3131. 

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