3 months ago
Here is how she died: On July 10, 1991, James “Ice” McAlphin shot her in room 121 at the El Dorado, Louisiana Whitehall Motel.
The victim had been beaten by McAlphin on a number of occasions. He might have pimped her out. And then he put an end to things. He was convicted of the murder and is in prison still today.
She was tall and blonde and in photos, she was a pretty woman whose hard life was just beginning to tell in her skin, in a certain strain around her eyes. The woman had danced in clubs as Mercedes. She’d acquired the social security card and an ID in the name of Cheryl Ann Wick. But the real Cheryl Ann Wick was surprised: While she’d been a dancer herself, the genuine Wick said she never knew “Mercedes.”
That’s the thing. No one did. The woman who would end up dead in the motel told different stories to everyone. She gave other names: Kelly Lee Carr, Shannon Wiley, Cheryl Kaufman and Sharon Wiley. And none of them were really hers.
Here are some things investigators have learned: Jane Doe, Kelly Doe, Cheryl—whatever works for you—lived near Dallas at some point. She then circuited through Louisiana, landed for a while in Arkansas, and ended in El Dorado. It’s believed she either lived in or was from Florida. James McAlphin told of meeting her parents at one point.
But then again, McAlphin was a murderer, not the type of people known for being reliably truthful.
The unknown woman was known to local ERs in El Dorado, always arriving bruised and beaten.
She kept a personal diary. A Facebook page devoted to finding her true identity posted scans from pages written in 1990. In one entry she wrote this about a boyfriend—it isn’t clear that it was McAlphin: “Oh thank God! He finally talked to me this morning. I don’t believe it. He said he was sorry and didn’t mean those things he said to me. I’m so in love with him. I’m glad we are going to work things out…”
After El Dorado Jane Doe died, police discovered a bible among her personal effects. It contained various names from the Stroud family: Willie James Stroud, Sharon Yvette Stroud, Ladonna Elaine Stroud, Johnny Lee Stroud and others. Further investigation determined they were an African American family in Irving, Texas who had taken her in for a while.
In her diary entry she sounded like a teen girl, immature and desperate for affection, even from cold and violent men. But she wasn’t a kid.
She might have been Kelly Lee Carr. Police going off her alias “Kelly Lee Carr” advised the FBI that she might be a 24-year-old bank robbery suspect who’d hit financial institutions on the East Coast.
Writing for the Huffington Post in 2016, David Lohr took a deep dive into the mystery. He quoted McAlphin, who told him that the woman’s “identity is not a mystery” to him.
“But,” McAlphin continued, “if you solve this cold case, you’ll find that you are also solving a couple more cold cases.”‘
Lohr also interviewed Todd Matthews. Matthews founded The Doe Network, an “international center for unidentified and missing persons.”
Matthews may understand the dark lure of missing persons cases like this better than anyone outside law enforcement. “Missing is worse than dead,” Matthews said, “when you know somebody and cannot put their physical remains to rest.”
Why do people take on new identities? Very recently, police solved the case of Joseph Newton Chandler, a strange old man who killed himself in 2003. After his death it was discovered that he’d stolen the name of a little boy who died in the 1940s.
In reality his name was Robert Nichols and he was a heroic veteran of World War II. He simply walked away from his family one day and never returned, living out the rest of his life under his false identity.
El Dorado Jane Doe was probably running from something — but she ran into something worse.
Of all the mysteries out there, the mystery of a missing name can be among the most compelling. A John or Jane Doe represents the other side of missing—someone has been found and they have no name. That means someone else somewhere has lost them.
Kelly Lee Carr, Cheryl Wick, Mercedes—she’s just one such mystery. She fell down a dark hole and was lost to violence, even as she might have been on the run from something else.
Then there’s Mary Anderson. Doe Network no. 159UFWA. She was well-dressed, had nice toiletries and clothing. She locked herself in a hotel room and committed suicide by poison. No one knows who she was, or why she did it.
They are all collections of evidence, reports filled out with a tired cop’s scrawl. They sit alone in morgues then go to rest under a plain marker.
Perhaps the need to know, to give them a name, makes us a little more human. We keep trying to piece together all of El Dorado Jane Doe’s fake identities to see if there’s some breadcrumb trail back to the real woman. Because she and so many others ended up worse than lost—they were erased.