Kansas City, Mo. It was one year ago that police officers working on an unrelated case made the gruesome discovery: the headless body of a girl just 3 or 4 years old.
Three days later, a volunteer searching the wooded area discovered her head, wrapped in a trash bag and wedged between an old tire and a rock.
Despite national media exposure, a $33,000 reward and a relentless push by community activists, the case continues to baffle police and the FBI. The girl remains unidentified, as does her killer.
"I feel like I'm no closer (to solving the case) than a year ago," said police Sgt. Dave Bernard, the lead homicide investigator in the case. "It's frustrating."
The girl dubbed Precious Doe by community activists was found April 28, 2001, across from a small park in a residential area about five miles southeast of downtown. Investigators think she had been dead a day or two. She is described as black and about 3 feet tall and 41 pounds, with a small, brown, crescent-shaped birthmark on her shoulder.
Investigators believe that she was killed before she was beheaded and that the crime happened somewhere else. Police will not say how she was killed or whether she was sexually assaulted.
To date, police have received 811 leads, including calls and letters from around the country, Bernard said. Of those, 231 leads remain active. The FBI has been helping by pursuing about 200 leads outside the Kansas City area. All have turned up nothing.
"The age of the child and the fact that someone so young could be victimized without anyone reporting it, is very bothersome," said FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza.
Intense media coverage
Investigators have said the longer Precious Doe goes unidentified, the more likely it is that she is not from the Kansas City area. There was intense media coverage in the days following the discovery, and authorities contacted area schools and day-care centers.
The mystery has been featured on television's "America's Most Wanted," the "Today" show, and news articles have appeared in national publications such as USA Today. Police have combed countless missing-persons reports.
The biggest obstacle in the investigation has been that the girl's identity is unknown, Bernard said.
"I have no place to start," he said. "In most murder investigations, you know the ID of victim or the family."
Composite pictures of Precious Doe hang on the walls of the police department's homicide unit, and a bust of her head also is on display.
The killing is still fresh on the minds of many in the Kansas City area, including community activist Alonzo Washington.
"Her killing touched a chord that crossed racial, ethnic and social lines," said Washington, who during the past year has lead prayer vigils near the discovery site.
Hundreds volunteered to answer witness hot lines and pass out fliers with the child's picture in the days following the discovery of her body. An advertising company donated 20 billboards displaying the picture and the words "Who Am I?"
Area companies donated a casket and other funeral-related services for a December funeral and burial the community organized.
Community leaders have held events all month to recognize the anniversary of the discovery and urging anyone with information about the killing to come forward. T-shirts, bumper stickers and fliers with the child's picture were passed out on city streets.
Washington said he believed the community had come together in an unusual way because unlike many child slayings, there were no grieving parents on TV newscasts or pictured in local newspapers.
"No one knows who this child belongs to. She was just cast away like trash, like something no one wanted," Washington said. "That compelled people to come together and claim her as the community's child."
Statistically, with the death of a child, the most likely people to be involved are the parents, Bernard said. Among the theories police have are that perhaps the child's mother herself is dead; the girl and her family may be from another state; or the parents might have been involved in the killing.