Julie Doe: The Story of a Transgender Doe
On September 25, 1988 a man looking for cypress wood to build patio furniture in the Green Swamps area near Clermont, Florida found the mummified remains of a caucasian female.
Police quickly arrived on scene and determined that Julie Doe was between 22–35 years old, she was between 5'9"-5'11", and she weighed around 170 pounds. She had naturally brown hair that had been dyed blonde, but her eye color was unable to be determined. Julie Doe was wearing a blue-green tank top, a long acid wash Manisha brand denim skirt, had long manicured fingernails, and pantyhose that were pulled down to her ankles.
It appeared as though she had been dragged there, likely from a vehicle, which means that she was not killed at the scene. Julie had likely died anywhere from two weeks to six months prior to her discovery.
Julie Doe’s body was taken to the C.A. Pound Identification Laboratory (CAPHIL) at the University of Florida in Gainesville where an autopsy would take place the following Monday, September 26. The autopsy would be conducted by Dr. William Maples who is a world famous forensic anthropologist who conducted autopsies on cases such as the Romanovs and Joseph Merrick.
Dr. Maples concluded that Julie had an athletic build, but he also noticed that she had 250 cc breast implants which would have been proportional or “normal” for her build. The implants had likely been placed before 1984 because that specific type of implant was discontinued in that year. The surgery had likely occurred in one of the following cities: Atlanta, Georgia; Miami, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York City, New York; or California. Dr. Maples also noticed that Julie Doe had pits and/or ridges on her pelvis, which led Dr. Maples to conclude that she had been pregnant at least once in her life. She also had healed fractures to her left seventh rib, right cheek bone, and the fifth toe. It was also concluded that she had possibly had a rhinoplasty, likely to fix the facial damage. One peculiarity that Dr. Maples noticed was that Julie Doe did not have a uterus, but it was concluded that she must have had a hysterectomy.
Her case was circulated back in 1988 but nothing came of it. Her body was stored at CAPHIL from 1988 onward.
22 years later, in 2010, Florida had success with identifying two other Doe cases through DNA. That same year, Detective Tamara Dale took over at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and made a statewide push to solve cold cases.
In 2015, Julie Doe’s body was taken out of storage for DNA testing. Dr. Michael Warren, a student of Dr. Maples and the current director of CAPHIL, examined Julie Doe’s body. He noticed that her bone growth seemed more proportional to someone who had male hormones coursing through their body during puberty. The results of the DNA test would confirm his suspicion.
Upon receiving her DNA results, it was discovered that she had XY chromosomes. The presence of the XY chromosomes means that Julie Doe was born biologically male. Julie Doe was a transgender woman.
This changed everything about Julie Doe’s case and propelled her into the media.
Soon after this revelation, Julie Doe was given her nickname by a group of University of Florida students. Her name comes from the LGBTQ+ cult-classic film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.
The pits in her pelvis are now believed to have been caused by hormone replacement therapy that is often employed during the surgical transition process. It is unclear how far Julie was in her transition, but we know that she had breast implants and likely took female hormones. However, sources differ on if Julie had lower body reassignment or not as her body was too decomposed. There is also debate as to whether she had facial feminization surgery because she had likely gotten a rhinoplasty, but that could have been used to repair the trauma to her face and head.
After these revelations Detective Stephen Fusco of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office created a new reconstruction for Julie Doe, which believed to be highly accurate (it is the one featured in the beginning of this article).
This sadly means that for 27 years the police were searching in the wrong direction. They had been looking for a cisgender female, when they should have been looking for a transgender female. What clues could they have missed? Was there someone who came forward looking for a transgender woman who was ignored? Did her chosen family look for her back in 1988 but they didn’t connect her disappearance to the murder of a cisgender woman? These are questions that currently lack answers.
But, in 2018, Julie Doe’s skull was sent to the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences at the University of South Florida in Tampa for isotope testing. The results indicated that Julie Doe was likely a South Florida native. However, there is a possibility that she is from another area so do not discount a possible identity based solely on the location.
DNA Doe Project and the Trans Doe Task Force
Shortly after this, the DNA Doe Project took on Julie Doe’s case. The DNA Doe Project is a non-profit that uses genetic genealogy to identify Jane and John Does. They performed two DNA extractions that were funded by the investigating agency but, sadly, both of them failed. However, the third crowdfunded extraction was a success.
Two volunteers with the DNA Doe Project, Lee and Anthony Redgrave took a special interest in Julie’s case. Lee Redgrave (they/them)who is nonbinary and Anthony Redgrave (he/him) who is a transgender man, who later found out that he was born intersex. They began to ask some very important questions when it comes to unidentified transgender people:
- “What if somebody isn’t living by their legal name?”
- “And what if their family doesn’t care”
- “What if their family didn’t want them, and that’s why they’re unidentified?”
- “What if they have a chosen family that does want to take care of them?”
The genetic genealogy process would likely lead to Julie’s dead name (a pre transition or birth name). 40% of trans people don’t have identification with their chosen name and gender. And any information regarding Julie Doe’s life leading up to her death would be found with her chosen family.
The Redgraves founded the Trans Doe Task Force in 2018 to bridge the gap between identity and genetics.
But the Redgraves’ passion ran deeper than that. In January of 2018, their friend Christa Steele-Knudslien was stabbed and beaten to death. Christa was a trans woman who the Redgraves met after the tragic suicide of another trans friend named Lars. In their grief Lee stated:
“We can’t help Christa anymore, we can’t help Lars anymore, but we can help someone who’s unidentified”
They began to round up cases where the gender identity of the decedent was in question. They would look for cases where the victims are wearing clothing or accessories that don’t match their gender assigned at birth. Later on they found that they needed to also look for derogatory terms such as: crossdresser, transvestite, or transexual. You have to look for things like terms used and clothing found because most don’t have evidence of biological transitioning. Julie Doe is the rare exception, as she did have biological evidence of her transitioning process.
The foundation had their first success with the identification of Pillar Point Doe back in 2019, however, their case is still awaiting confirmation by law enforcement.
They have around 20 active volunteers who have come up with innovations regarding sketches of transgender does. They actually used programs like FaceApp to show the individual at various points in her transition process.
Law Enforcement and the Trans Community:
Law enforcement are ill-equipped to manage cases of transgender people, as many of them may not have education or exposure to the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, some may have prejudices against transgender people.
This lack of understanding can be seen on police reports and databases. On NamUs, for example, the option for “other” in the sex category was only added back in June of 2019. With no current plans to add a gender category to their database.
Looking at missing persons cases with trans victims, they are usually dead named and misgendered. Consider the disappearance of Sage Smith back in 2012: Her NamUs case dead names her, shows a picture of her from before she came out, and she is misgendered.
I will only show one line from her page that is listed under “Circumstances of Disappearance”
It saddens me to think that her entire difficult journey to her true identity has been reduced down to one misgendering line in a missing persons file, especially since she had only come out publicly less than two weeks before her disappearance.
Due to this disrespect, lack of understanding, and/or prejudice of various law enforcement agencies, many transgender people find it difficult to trust police in these matters. This is a problem because violent crimes against transgender people, specifically transgender women, has been described as an epidemic by the American Medical Association.
This connects to Julie’s case because the people who knew her as her true identity back in the 1980s, might have been afraid or hesitant to come forward to police. They could still be hesitant to come forward to the police even all these years later.
Regarding this, Trans Task Force volunteer Megan Street said “The Trans Doe Task Force helping with these cases can, I hope, help the community feel comfortable opening up to us, because they don’t feel like they’re talking to a police officer. That can be really, really hard for LGBTQ people”. The task force’s hope is that their collaboration with law enforcement will encourage the people of the LGBTQ+ community to come forward with any information that they might have.
So how did Julie die?
We don’t know, but it was likely a homicide. Due to the fact that her body was dumped by the side of the road and the fact that her pantyhose were pulled down towards her ankles, which could indicate a sexual assault. The only conclusion that I can make is that it was likely not a gunshot as no bullet hole, shell casing, or bullet was ever found.
What could have led up to Julie Doe being killed?
Many people believe that Julie Doe may have been a sex worker. This was, sadly, a line of work that some trans people had to turn to pay for their transition process as the biological transitioning process can cost thousands of dollars. So it can be hard for many people, even in modern day, to gather the money. As many people know, sex work can be a dangerous profession. It can connect those who work in it to violent and/or murderous people. This is unfortunately what happened to well-known transgender performer Venus Xtravaganza who was murdered, likely by a client, in December of 1988.
The other fact that must be considered, is the fact that Julie Doe was transgender. In 2021 we saw the deadliest year of transgender and gender nonconforming people being killed with a staggering 375 deaths worldwide. So why does this happen? Unfortunately, some men feel emasculated by finding out that their romantic partner or planned sexual partner is transgender. So, they kill the person to save their egos. Many of these killers will use what is known as the “trans panic defense” which is, essentially, “I found out they were transgender, and I was overcome by uncontrollable anger”. This defense is also used when the victim is gay, the “gay panic defense”. These defenses are wrong in so many ways and there is an ongoing battle to get it banned nationwide in the United States.
These moments of murderous anger could be motivated by religion, obstinate ignorance, and/or general transphobia. None of which are even remotely acceptable excuses to end someone’s life.
Why exactly she was killed is still, like many aspects of this case, a mystery.
Rule-Outs and Identities:
Despite the fact that Julie was known as a cisgender woman for 27 years, there are a few rule-outs in her case.
As to her true identity, there is a high likelihood that she was never reported missing. She could have been turned away by her parents for being transgender, or she could have been one of the many teens who slipped through the cracks as runaways in the 1970s and 1980s.
To quote Trans Doe Task Force volunteer Amy Michael, transgender victims were “people who were marginalized in life and marginalized in death”. One of the things that Julie likely spent a lot of time carefully choosing after figuring out her gender identity, her name, is the very thing that has been taken from her in death.
This injustice is absolutely gutting, but I have hope that this case will be solved in the near future.
If you have any information that could lead to the identity of Julie Doe, the identity of her potential killers, and/or the circumstances surrounding her death please contact:
- Lake County Sheriff’s Office at (352)-343–9529 and ask for Sergeant Tamara Dale in reference to case number 88–09–4583
- District 5 Medical Examiner’s Office at (352)-326–5961 and ask for Lindsey Bayer (the Medicolegal Death Investigator)
Seriously Mysterious Podcast: “Who is Julie Doe?”