More than a decade after the death of an unidentified child in Opelika, law enforcement officials on Thursday announced the conclusion of an exhaustive investigation with an emotional press conference.
Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey revealed that “Baby Jane Doe,” whose artist-rendered sketches haunted news stories for years, was finally identified as Amore Joveh Wiggins, who would be 17 if still alive.
On Jan. 17, 2023, Wiggins’ father, 50-year-old Lamar Vickerstaff Jr., and step-mother, Ruth Vickerstaff, were arrested in Jacksonville, Fla., and were charged with felony murder and failure to report a missing child, respectively. They are currently being held at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office pending extradition to Lee County.
On Jan. 28, 2012, the Opelika Police Department responded to a call from Brookhaven Trailer Park, located at 1775 Hurst Street in Opelika, in reference to skeletal remains being found. During the search of the area, a skull was found in the yard of a residence, while bones were found a few feet into the wood line. A pink child’s shirt and a small bundle of hair were also found.
The FBI’s Evidence Response Team was called to assist the OPD with the recovery of the child’s remains, which were immediately sent to the agency’s forensics lab in Quantico, Va.
Barbara Rae-Venter, a genealogist and investigator who works closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and helped identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer, identified Vickerstaff as Wiggins’ father after DNA suitable for genealogy testing was retrieved from the child’s scalp and hair in January 2022 and a comprehensive profile was developed and uploaded to a national database.
Additional analysis revealed that 37-year-old Sherry Wiggins of Norfolk, Va. was Wiggins’ biological mother. During the course of the investigation, Wiggins’ mother provided documents showing Lamar and Ruth Vickerstaff obtained legal and physical custody of Wiggins in 2009, three years after her birth.
Wiggins’ mother presented additional documents indicating her visitation was suspended and that she had continuously paid child support to Lamar Vickerstaff since 2009.
To notify Vickerstaff of his daughter's death, Opelika detectives traveled to Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla., in December 2022. During the meeting, Vickerstaff failed to provide investigators with any information on the identity of Baby Jane Doe.
Detectives then met with Vickerstaff's wife, who has been married to Vickerstaff since May 2006. When asked by detectives if she knew his daughter or who Baby Jane Doe's mother was, she said she did not.
Law enforcement officials, who were quick to credit advancements in DNA testing technology for finally being able to identify Wiggins’ parents after a more-than decade-long search, revealed Wiggins suffered more than 15 individual fractures to her skull, arms, legs, shoulders and ribs that “were attributed to blunt-force trauma.”
Investigators also stated they believed those fractures indicated prior healing had taken place prior to her death, and that the medical examiner believed she was malnourished in addition to being physically abused.
According to law enforcement officials, more than 15,000 case files from the Alabama Department of Public Health and thousands of tips from all over the United States were investigated by Sgt. Alfred White and other detectives at OPD to no avail before DNA testing provided more conclusive evidence.
Vickerstaff was born and raised in Opelika before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. During his lengthy Navy career, he resided in Norfolk, Va., Honolulu, Hawaii and Jacksonville, Fla.
This case remains under investigation. Police ask that anyone with information regarding the case contact the Opelika Police Department Detective Division at (334) 705-5220 or the Secret Witness Hotline at (334) 745-8665. Tips can be submitted through the Opelika Police Mobile App. You may wish to remain anonymous.
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Daniel Schmidt, senior in journalism, is the assistant news editor for the Auburn Plainsman.