BLACK RIVER FALLS — Steve Schreiber, then chief deputy coroner, was on call Oct. 10, 1990, when the decapitated and dismembered body of a female was recovered from two shallow graves, where it had been placed in garbage bags in the Jackson County town of Brockway.
Schreiber transported the remains to Madison for an autopsy and possible identification, which didn’t happen. He attended the service when the female referred to as Jane Doe was laid to rest in Black River Falls’ Riverside Cemetery. He took flowers to her grave each Memorial Day and tended to them throughout the summer, and he lit a luminary there each Christmas Eve.
“She was a person, someone’s daughter, and we figured she probably was someone’s mother,” said Schreiber, who now is Black River Falls fire chief.
Earlier this month authorities learned Jane Doe’s identity: Julia Baez, 36, of Milwaukee.
“To put a name to Jane Doe was pretty awesome,” Schreiber said Monday during a news conference at the Jackson County Courthouse, where Sheriff Duane Waldera announced the break in the cold case.
“This now is considered a Jackson County homicide case,” said Waldera, who has been with the sheriff’s office since 1993. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Public’s help sought
Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox asked the public for its help in solving the nearly 25-year-old case.
“Based on what we think we know about Ms. Baez’s life, we think that someone with some information may be living between Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Chicago area,” Fox said. “We are right on the interstate, and it’s quite common for people to move back and forth between those areas, and although it’s been 25 years, we’re fairly confident that there is someone out there who can tell us what happened and why.”
Baez, a mother of four, was last seen in June 1990, the sheriff said. She was reported missing that November.
While Baez’s family is thankful she has been identified, “all we ask for now is for who did this to her to hopefully be brought to justice,” they said in a statement read by Waldera.
In that statement, the family thanked the residents of Black River Falls, Schreiber, Jackson County sheriff's Detective Kelly Bakken, state Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Joe Welsch and Milwaukee police Officer Benjamin Smith.
“We thank you all for finally giving our family closure,” the statement read. “We have waited so long.”
Baez’s remains were discovered by people searching for mushrooms, Waldera said. The initial investigation was unable to identify Jane Doe, whose skull has never been found, and the case went cold.
Prompted by advances in technology, his office gave the case another look. On July 7, 2014, the Jackson County sheriff’s office and Division of Criminal Investigation exhumed the body in an attempt to advance the investigation. Dr. Vincent Tranchida, Dane County chief medical examiner, performed a second autopsy on the remains and assisted with preparing them for transportation to the University of North Texas Health Science Center for further examination.
In 1990, there was some talk of cremating the remains, but officials opted not to, thinking advances in technology at some point might help identify Jane Doe, Schreiber said.
UNT Health Science Center officials, who have been working on the case for just over a year, were able to extract a DNA profile from the remains, and the DNA and other information were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUS, where they were available to other agencies and the public.
The Milwaukee Police Department had an open missing person case from 1990. Receiving DNA from the person’s children, the agency was able to create a genetic DNA profile for the woman that led to the match.
Bakken was thrilled to be able to identify Baez.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said Monday.
Waldera agreed, saying it was difficult to find a suspect in Baez’s killing without the victim’s name.
“I’m very confident we’re going to … get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Waldera also is “keeping his fingers crossed” that his office will be able to identify a man in a separate case whose skull, lower mandible and verterbra were found in a remote wooded area in the town of Knapp in 1978.
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• Anyone with information about the 1990 death of Julia Baez of Milwaukee is asked to call the Jackson County sheriff’s office at 715-284-5357 and ask to speak with an investigator.