Our Opinion: Persistence, hard work pay off

Monday, March 6, 2006

It reads like a synopsis of a television drama: nearly 30 years ago, a body of an unidentified woman is found in a roadside ditch in a rural area. Very little can be determined from the physical evidence, and "Jane Doe" is laid to rest, her killer remaining free. After advances in forensic technology and development of a national fingerprint registry, a match is found.

Lyon County law enforcement officials lived this particular "cold case," and are now closer to finding the killer of Wilma Nissen, the "Jane Doe" found near the West Lyon school on Oct. 4, 1978.

Late last week, law enforcement released the few details they had about Nissen. The body they found wore white gogo boots with khaki green denim pants that had a braid around the waist, underwear that was multicolored -- red, white, blue and yellow -- and a gold friendship ring on her middle finger. Her hair was blonde. Nissen was 23 when she was killed. She grew up in California.

Fingerprints that were taken when Nissen was arrested for prostitution in Long Beach were submitted to an FBI database. Prints were taken from the body when it was discovered and were also entered into the database. The Long Beach prints only recently were entered into the database. Criminalists in Des Moines eventually developed the match.

The story went out over news wires on Friday, and by the end of the weekend, Lyon County Sheriff Blythe Bloemendaal was contacted by a woman who he is confident is the daughter of Wilma Nissen. DNA testing will be done to confirm the woman is Nissen's daughter.

Before this breakthrough, Nissen was one of six unidentified bodies in Iowa. This break in her case would not have occurred without the persistence, professionalism, cooperation and just plain hard work of law enforcement. Hopefully, Nissen's killer will be brought to justice. If nothing else, closure for her family can begin.