‘Tent Girl’

Coroner Kenneth Grant with body

It was May 17, 1968, when Wilbur Riddle found a woman in the woods, wrapped in some tent fabric, thirteen miles north of Georgetown, Kentucky.

Riddle was a water well-driller and when he turned up for work at a drill site, there was a note from his boss to wait for him before he started drilling. He waited around for a little while, but started wandering a little to waste some time, when he saw some workers a little in the distance. They were working on replacing the glass insulators, he knew they could be worth some money, so he went on the search for some they had left behind, he planned on painting and selling them.

It was beside Highway Interstate 75, along a dirt road. He picked up a couple of the glass insulators and he noticed a rather large green bag, badly hidden in some bushes. With a curious mind, he headed over to the bag and tugged at the thin cord that was wrapped around it. The bag was a canvas bag, one that you would put your tent in. He tried to tug at the cord, he kicked it lightly with his foot and the bag rolled down the hill. Riddle’s curiosity only peaked, he strolled down the hill towards the bag, he pulled out the fabric and as soon as he did, he ran back to his truck to a phone box. There was a foul smell, one he knew meant bad news, one that would stick in his nose for hours, and his memory forever.

He got to a phone box and called the police, Scott County Sheriff, Bobby Vance answered his panicked call. When he arrived at the scene, with his Deputy, Jimmy Williams and the Deputy Coroner, Kenneth Grant, Riddle led them to the bag.

Wilbur Riddle & Sheriff Bobby Vance at the scene

When Vance bent down to look at the contents of the bag, he gagged and called over to his deputy to “come here and smell this“, when he did he told his sheriff that where was “only one smell in the world like that” and that was “the stench of rotting human flesh“.

The thin cord that was wrapped around the bag was cut, they opened it up to reveal a naked, decomposing body of a young woman. She had her right hand clenched but not so much into a fist, but as though she had tried to claw her way out of the material she had been wrapped in. It was a sight they would never forget, her eyes had rotted away and her skin was pock-marked from deterioration. The body was soon taken away by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington.

Kenneth Grant started his work and examination on the corpse. An hours later, state police and Detective Edward L Cornett arrived at the hospital. Grant greeted them before telling them what he had found out after doing a preliminary autopsy, “The victim was a white female, sixteen to nineteen years, five feet one inch, tall eight stone. She had short, reddish-brown hair and no identifying marks or scars.

At the time of the autopsy, no fingerprints could be taken due to the stage of decomposition the body was in. However, he did cut off one of the girl’s fingers and give it to Cornett to be soaked in chemicals for a week. He said that this would give them a print, and after a week, he was right, they had a print to work from.

With the girl however still unidentified, Kentucky’s media named her the ‘Tent Girl’, and that name stuck. They badly wanted to identify the poor girl, there were many attempts, but none of them were successful.

Another coroner, Frank Cleveland was called in to do the final autopsy, he found no trace of poison or toxic material in her body, her skull had some slight discolouration but there was no clear signs of the cause of her death. They assumed to may have been knocked unconscious with a blow to the head, then stuffed in the bag only to die from suffocation. She hadn’t been shot and she wasn’t pregnant. They estimated that she had been dead for around two to three weeks.

Harrold Musser was a patrolman with the Covington Police Department and he was also a talented artist, and had often been called to be a sketch artists on previous cases. He spent days looking at the pictures taking of ‘Tent girl’ from her autopsy and crime scene picture. His results portrayed a pretty young girl, with short hair and a rather obvious flaw between her front teeth.

‘Tent girl’ artist sketch

This portrait sketch was put into newspapers statewide to further attempt to identify the poor girl, instead of calling her ‘Tent Girl’ because no one deserved to be known as John Doe, Jane Doe or ‘Tent Girl’. Leads after leads came up and police spent hours every day searching through letters and following up on leads, but all leads were ruled out due to differences in height, weight, age and dental structure.

One lead did look particularly promising, a girl had been reported missing from Pasadena, Maryland and her name was Dorris Ditmar. Whilst police were checking out this promising lead, they found a trucker who told them he had seen a pair of hitchhikers on U.S. 25, which was near where the body had been found. He said that it was raining that night and the man and woman were wearing clothes too light for the weather, which is why he remembered them.

A retired, heavy equipment operator called the police a couple of hours after they spoke to the trucker, and this operator was able to confirm the man’s story. The retiree had actually picked up the two hitchhikers on April 14th, he too mentioned that they weren’t dressed for the weather, and as he drove them South, the couple kept arguing before he finally told them to get out. He last saw them hitchhiking North towards Georgetown. But Dorris Ditmar returned home, safe and sound. So that lead had come to an abrupt end.

However, one lead came to them on June 7th, 1968, Detective Sergeant Miller phoned Lieutenant Roberts and said, “I think I’ve got the name of your Tent Girl“. Roberts had been searching for a missing fifteen year old and he stated “there was a strong resemblance between her and the Tent Girl“.

Blue Chevrolet Corvair

This missing girl was Debbie Krane, she was last seen getting into a blue Chevrolet Corvair, with her seventeen year old friend on March 3rd, 1968. Her friends twenty-one year old brother Floyd was with them. The details on the girl more or less matched, so it was worth looking into.

Miller requested that they brought Debbie’s parents down to the station to make an identification on the sketch they had. They had to be sure, due to some of the details matching and some of them not.

Whilst that was being organised, detectives sent off the canvas bag, the rope that was tied around the bag and the small white towel like material that was found over her shoulders, to the FBI’s Washington laboratory for examination. They obtained Debbie’s dental records which were similar to ‘Tent Girls’ teeth. When Debbie’s mother was shown the sketch, she almost fainted with how similar it was to her Debbie.

Debbie’s mother and aunt travelled down to Georgetown on 13th June, they had spent two hours trying to identify the girls remains, but sadly, the body was so badly decomposed, that they couldn’t make a positive identification, because of the decomposition, she couldn’t say wether it was or wasn’t her daughter. They looked back into the hitchhiking couple, it was believed that Debbie had gotten herself involved with other young people using narcotics, they wanted to find out if that young woman could have been Debbie – if she was murdered by her boyfriend after being kicked out of the retired man’s vehicle.

Soon after looking into that lead, police got an anonymous phone call by a man saying, “Debbie Krane ain’t that Tent Girl, you want to find her, go to Bradford, Pennsylvania. She’s alive as you are.” And with that, he abruptly hung up.

Miller made the trip to Bradford, Pennsylvania in search of Debbie, and was successful. She was living with her boyfriend, who had told her they would find somewhere to live if they left together. They made the single journey to Bradford, with no stopping in Kentucky. The couple were both taken back home, and the search for the identification of ‘Tent Girl’ continued. Not only that, but the results came back from the FBI laboratory, from the evidence they send and it all came back with nothing to go by. All the material was common, and widely distributed.

Then in Pennsylvania, a girl was found dead which had striking similarities in which Tent Girl was found. Her name was Candace Clothier, she was a sixteen year old girl who was reported missing from her home in Philadelphia at 8:30PM on Saturday 9th March, 1968. Hundreds of people joined the search, but it was three fishermen that found her naked body. She washed up on a small island in the creek, she was wrapped up in a bag, which was tied – just like Tent Girl.

Police Chief of Northampton, Pennsylvania, Anthony Fergione was on the case and he couldn’t believe the similarity between the two cases. He was so invested when he heard about it, that he cancelled the rest of his vacation and drove back to Kentucky with his wife. He was determined to find out who the killer was. He went to meet Cornett and they compared the cases. “Autopsy findings were the same in both cases-no identifiable cause of death; both bodies showed a slight discolouration of the skin covering the skull in the same spot on the right side; both corpses were wrapped in canvas bags, tied with rope from top to bottom, and the feet tucked under the torso.” Both of the bodies had been dumped away from the main roads and were not found for weeks.

Fergione was so sure that the killer of both Candace and ‘Tent Girl’ had to be from Pennsylvania. He took the sketch of Tent Girl with him to Pennsylvania and checked it with the State’s missing girls, but there wasn’t any match.

Candace Clothier

Cornett was in his office in Frankfort on August 4th, when he got a phone call. “I know who’s the Tent Girl you’ve been looking for. She’s a young kid that disappeared from Covington in late April“. Just as abruptly as the previous phone call about Debbie Krane ended, so did this one. Cornett wasted no time, he got in touch with the police department in Covington and asked them to give him a list of girl’s that had gone missing in April. They found the teenager, she was alive and doing perfectly well. She had just moved home from Covington because of some family issues that had been going on.

Another sketch of ‘Tent Girl’ was drawn and dispatched out with minor changes such as; a slightly fuller face, less smiling, and lowered cheekbones. New leads came in but yet again, all leads were ruled out due to physical discrepencies. The case had reached the publication ‘Master Detective’ who wrote about the case in their magazine, trying to get more people to see it so she could be identified. They were all in hopes that the readers would know something, anything.

Sadly, with how badly ‘tent girls’ body was decomposed, they were unable to retrieve anymore evidence than they already had, so they buried her. She had no gravestone, until local residents donated their money to get her one. The poor girl didn’t deserve to be buried, only to be forgotten.

‘Tent Girls’ gravestone

Twenty years later, the man who found her body, Wilbur Riddle had retired and moved away. He had a seventeen year old daughter, one day she brought home her boyfriend Todd Matthews, Riddle got speaking about ‘Tent Girl’ and even showed Todd a copy of ‘Master Detective’ that he had saved. They couldn’t stop talking about her, how she had a mom and a dad, she could have been married, had kids. Riddle and Matthews were so invested in the conversation, that they decided to look into it more, to see if they could find any additional information. If they could finally find out her identity.

Matthews married Riddle’s daughter, but there was a strain on the marriage because he became obsessed with ‘Tent Girl’ case. He was looking through all the old newspaper clippings, looked into the information and evidence that had been publicised. The notes from the FBI lab stated that the white towel like material on the body was a baby’s nappy, which made Matthew believe that she could have been older than what the police originally thought, she could have had kids like he had discussed with his father-in-law years earlier.

Matthews wrote to the authorities about his theory of her age and the reasoning behind it, but didn’t hear anything back. He then wrote to the coroner to dig up her body and do another exam on her pelvic to see if she had ever given birth. But again, he didn’t hear anything back.

The case became a huge part of Matthew’s life, he would think about every minute of the day, he had even begun sleepwalking. He finally decided to make the long trip to ‘Tent Girls’ gravestone, he sat there to pay his respects before going to speak to the undertaker that had dealt with her and he spoke to the local newspaper to find that there were no new discoveries or developments.

He didn’t give up though. In 1992, new technology was discussed. The internet. Matthew’s knew this could help him in his search, he saved up his money so that he could buy a computer. At this point, Matthew’s and his wife had a little boy, who complained that his Dad was always at the computer. Matthew’s put a picture of ‘Tent Girl’ by his computer so that he would stay motivated. He was searching constantly on missing person’s websites.

He had been obsessed with the case for ten years, he wasn’t spending enough time with his family, he was always hunched over his computer. He made his own website dedicated to her. But no amount of e-mails would give him additional information.

One night, in his pyjama’s, his wife and son in bed asleep. He was hunched over his computer, searching on more missing person’s websites, about to give up and go to bed to sleep, he saw three words that instantly woke him up. “Lexington… 1967…Missing”.

The post was written by a woman named Rosemary Westbrook, she posted an old picture of her sister, stating that she had gone missing. “My sister Barbara has been missing from our family since the latter part of 1967. She has brown hair, brown eyes, is around five feet two inches tall, and was last seen in the Lexington, Kentucky, area. If you have any information, please contact me at the address posted.” Before he did anything else, he ran to his bedroom to wake up his wife, shouting that he had found her, before rushing back to his computer.

He sent Rosemary a message, she told him that her sister was twenty-four years old and was in fact a mother of a daughter when she went missing in December, 1967. She was working in a restaurant in Lexington, she the wife to a carnival worker named George Earl Taylor. Her family hadn’t reported her missing, because they had no idea. Another sister said she had reported her missing from Florida but her husband told her family, that she had run off with another man.

With the new information, Matthews got back in touch with authorities, hoping that this time, they would respond back to him. They were slow to reply, but he was successful in having the girls body exhumed to do further DNA tests. Taking DNA from Rosemary and teeth or cheeks of ‘Tent Girl’ came back positive. ‘Tent Girl’ had to be Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor. She had finally been identified!

Barbara’s gravestone finally got a new headstone for her grave, this one had her name on, finally. Authorities wanted to get in touch with her husband, to get some answers, to find out who had killed her. But unfortunately, he had died of cancer in October, 1987.

‘Tent Girl’ had been identified thirty years after she was found dead, wrapped up in a canvas bag, bound by cords. There was the big possibility that her husband had killed her, telling her family that she had left him for another man to cover up his crime. But the person(s) responsible for this crime, was never found.

The Candace Clothier case was officially closed in 2010, when new information led investigators to the answers, they believed were true. They believe that the Clothier and ‘Tent Girl’ case was related, somehow. But with this knowledge, that didn’t seem true anymore.

In 2005, a woman contacted the police telling them that the canvas bag that Clothier was found in, was hers. Her husband had asked to borrow it from her, he took it outside to a waiting car and disappeared for hours. On that night, March 9th, 1968, Candace left her home around 8:00PM to walk to a trolley bus. But a car pulled over and she accepted the ride, it was to be believed that she knew at least one of the men, so didn’t feel unsafe accepting the ride.

She was then driven to a “deserted area off Decatur Road near Northeast Philadelphia Airport, where youths often gathered.” When they were there, it’s unknown wether she was against her will or not, but she was injected with an illegal drug, and the dosage was lethal. One of the men identified in the car had a history of forcefully injecting people and animals with drugs. The drugs was most likely a way of making it easier to have sex with Candace, but weather it was an accident or not, the dosage caused her to have an overdose, which killed her.

The men carried her body to the car, where they drove to another man’s house, the woman’s husband who borrowed the canvas bag. They stuffed her in the bag and was dropped into the creek. The men have been identified, but names aren’t made public due to the fact that they are all dead and cannot defend themselves.

It’s still unknown as to how Barbara died, or killed. Who did it?
Was it her husband? He didn’t report her missing. He told the family she had run away with another man.
Who was this man she had apparently ran away with?
Did he murder her?

The murder is unsolved, but her name was identified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: