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32 years later, the July 1990 'Penny Doe' case in Clarion County, Pennsylvania, remains unsolved

The unidentified woman was called ‘Penny Doe’ after a penny was found in each pocket of her jeans.

“It was the day before my birthday. That’s one reason I’ll never forget it,” Angie Clinger told Dateline. “I was 7 turning 8.”

Angie Clinger on her 8th birthday
Angie Clinger on her 8th birthdayAngie Clinger

In the ‘90s, summertime meant one thing: playing outside all day until the street lamps turned on and you headed home for dinner.

“My brother, myself and our two neighbor kids that we grew up with – we always hung out around the area,” Angie said. “We could, you know, walk miles. We would hike, play in the woods, pick berries.”

And that’s what they were doing on July 22, 1990, in Monroe Township in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.

The tunnel underneath the railroad trestle.
The tunnel underneath the railroad trestle.Angie Clinger

“We were out that day playing,” Angie said. “There was this tunnel area and we always played in there.” The tunnel was underneath a railroad trestle which, at the time, was still operating. It’s overgrown now. “We were picking berries or just playing around in the woods like we always -- often did.”

What should have been a typical day playing in the sun would turn out to be anything but.

“We noticed something at the bottom of the little tunnel,” Angie told Dateline. “We thought, at first, it was like a deer carcass or something.”

The tunnel area where Penny Doe was found.
The tunnel area where Penny Doe was found.Angie Clinger

But as the kids approached the area, they realized it wasn’t a deer at all. “As we got closer and a better examination, we started noticing, like, human features -- like the skull.”

Angie told Dateline that the body was pretty much entirely a skeleton when they found it. “We freaked out,” Angie said. “I have vivid memories in my head of what she looked like.”

The kids ran home as fast as they could. “I don't think I ever ran so quick in my life,” Angie told Dateline. “I just remember, you know, just being traumatized and freaked out.”

When the kids got home, breathless and shaken up, they called the police. Angie says the older kids talked with officials and gave statements about what the four of them had seen.

Investigators immediately got to work. According to the DoeNetwork, a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying John/Jane Doe cases, the cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the right side of the skull. Experts believe the woman had died “6 to 8+ weeks prior” to the kids finding her remains.

Facial rendering of Penny Doe
Facial rendering of Penny DoeNational Missing and Unidentified Persons System

The woman was unidentifiable, but quickly earned a nickname. According to the DoeNetwork, there was a penny in each of the woman’s jeans pockets. She was called ‘Penny Doe’ from then on. The NamUs entry for Penny Doe details that she was wearing “size 9 ‘Gitano Express’ jeans, size 7 ‘Fruit of the Loom’ brand panties, and a black button-down shirt with attached floral vest made by ‘Stop Light of California.’” NamUs noted that there was no bra found on or near her body and she was not wearing any jewelry or shoes.

It is unclear how old Penny Doe was, but authorities believe she may have been between 20 and 40 years old.

According to the DoeNetwork, her eye color is unknown. She had shoulder-length dark brown hair. She weighed between 105 and 120 lbs., and would have been between 4’10” and 5’6”. They also noted that Penny Doe’s right leg was broken.

Penny Doe Facial Composite
Penny Doe Facial CompositeNational Center of Missing and Exploited Children

In their entry for Penny Doe, the DoeNetwork said officials determined that Penny Doe was likely not from the immediate area, but believe she was brought to that area by a local. The DoeNetwork includes details about Penny Doe’s teeth in their entry, saying she may have “come from an area with fluoride in the water since her teeth had no fillings and no sign of decay.” They added that she may have had a chipped upper right tooth when she was alive, though they noted the tooth might have gotten chipped when she was killed.

Dateline spoke with Rodney Sherman, the editor of the local paper, The Clarion News. Sherman told Dateline that he is from the area and has worked at the newspaper for the past 30 years.

While Sherman didn’t work at the paper when Penny Doe was found, he certainly knew of the case. “The speculation was she wasn’t from around here, because we don’t have anybody missing that matches that.” Since it’s such a small town, he said if anyone local had gone missing, everyone would have known who it was.

“I think what the general consensus is – is we really don’t know where she was from,” Sherman continued. “We’re close to a major interstate– we’re close to Interstate 80,” which is not far from where Penny Doe’s body was found.

“There’s just not a whole lot to it,” Sherman said, of evidence in the case. He added that despite that, he knows the Pennsylvania State Police are still working on Penny Doe’s case. “I know they haven’t given up,” he said. The DoeNetwork noted that there are no fingerprints available, but officials did collect DNA at the scene.

One lead that detectives investigated, according to the DoeNetwork, was that Penny Doe may have attended an outdoor rock concert on Sunday, May 27, 1990 – Memorial Day Weekend. The concert, called Music Alley, featured bands including “The Stand; Down To The Wire; Lawyers, Guns & Money; B.E. Taylor and Cleveland.” The venue was about 15 miles away from where Penny Doe was found. According to the DoeNetwork, there is no indication that Penny Doe actually attended the concert, however, more than 5,000 people were there, including many individuals who came from bordering states.

Clay Reconstruction of Penny Doe
Clay Reconstruction of Penny DoeNational Center of Missing and Exploited Children

DoeNetwork Media and Public Relations Director Todd Matthews, told Dateline that the DoeNetwork is one of the oldest databases featuring John/Jane Doe cases. “DoeNetwork’s very well established, very well-known out in the community,” Todd said. The Penny Doe case was added to the DoeNetwork’s database in 2003. For Penny Doe’s case, Matthews said that a majority of their information likely came from newspaper articles at the time, which are no longer available online.

Dateline asked the editor of the Clarion News, Rodney Sherman, for their original reporting on the Penny Doe case, but he said the archived newspapers are not currently accessible.

Todd Matthews said one way the DoeNetwork helps to solve cases is by taking possible matches of missing persons and unidentified persons, then reviewing them in a panel process. “You want to make sure that it's within the realm of possibility,” Matthews told Dateline about the matching panel process. “It's process of elimination.”

The teams working at the DoeNetwork compare and review cases based on time frame, location, age, facial shape, and structure, etc., to see if there are any matches for a particular unidentified person. Matthews told Dateline that many law enforcement officials “know that some of these databases like DoeNetwork have been around, have a good reputation and you can trust what you're getting from them is something that's actually been vetted.” He says the process is lengthy to make sure “what we are passing along to law enforcement is very precise and very targeted” to help them solve a case. Matthews said they’ve helped solve several cases using this method.

For the Penny Doe case specifically, the DoeNetwork said they have reviewed and submitted multiple cases as potential matches to law enforcement over the past 15 years, but so far there have been no matches confirmed.

Angie Clinger told Dateline she remembers the aftermath of finding Penny Doe’s remains. “I mean, it was a big thing in our area,” she said. “Clarion County is a tiny, small town and not much like that happens around here.”

Angie said the community definitely tensed up after Penny Doe was found. “We would walk miles and never think twice,” Angie said. “It definitely changed. Like, we weren't allowed to go out, because we had no idea at the time,” if Penny Doe’s killing would be an isolated incident, or if the person responsible was still in the community.

Penny Doe’s case went cold pretty quickly.

According to the DoeNetwork, in the summer of 2002, the police received an anonymous letter regarding the case. Officials put out a plea, asking for the writer of the letter to come forward. But the writer never responded.

Angie told Dateline about the letter, too. “There was an anonymous tip that came into -- a letter and they asked that the writer come forward, but no one ever heard anything again,” she said.

Penny Doe’s case again went cold.

Dateline reached out to the Pennsylvania State Police Troop C multiple times for comment, but they were unavailable to speak about the details of the case at this time.

“I do feel a sense of attachment to it,” Angie Clinger told Dateline. “I would love to be able to help in any way.”

Angie Clinger looking at the area they found Penny Doe 32 years ago.
Angie Clinger looking at the area they found Penny Doe 32 years ago.Angie Clinger

Even 32 years later, Angie says she feels a strong connection to the Penny Doe case. “Every year around this time I start thinking about it, you know, especially around my birthday – because we found her a day before,” Angie told Dateline. “Ever since, it's just, kind of, resonated with me.”

Angie still lives right near where she and her brother, and the neighborhood kids found Penny Doe’s remains. She told Dateline she’s often surprised when she brings up the case and other locals don’t really remember it. “It has a little bit more meaning to me, I guess, because I found -- I was part of the kids that found her,” Angie said. “The whole emotional, psychological experience really, I think, will forever connect me with it.”

She hopes that by sharing the story of the woman found with a penny in each pocket, who became known as Penny Doe, that someone will come forward with more information. “I just feel like ‘little ol’ me’ probably can't do anything,” Angie said. “If it had publicity, I really think that… I don't know. I just have this gut feeling there, like that's what it needs. Because people obviously have heard things. Somebody knows something.”

Facial rendering of Penny Doe
Facial rendering of Penny DoeNational Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)

Most of all, Angie hopes Penny Doe can get her name back. “This poor girl has never even been identified. I really just wish that they could at least identify who she is,” Angie told Dateline. “It's just so sad, like, somebody's missing somebody.”

If you have information about the Penny Doe case, please call the Pennsylvania State Police Troop C - Clarion Criminal Investigations Unit at 814-226-1710.