Photo: Vacaville Police Department
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The daughter of a Jane Doe is looking for answers after her mother was identified as the woman found dead at a Vacaville construction site 28 years ago.
“It was bittersweet when I found out she had passed,” Caitlin Johnson said.
Johnson is the long-lost daughter of 38-year-old Cynthia Merkley, whose body was discovered in a Vacaville field in 1991. Merkley’s identity was a mystery until just this month. Her cause of death is still unknown.
Just two weeks after Vacaville police cracked a cold case that had stymied them for years, Johnson is now seeking answers about how her mother died and why no one reported it for 28 years.
Who was Cynthia Merkley?
Johnson said her mother had a drug addiction and abandoned her and six other children. Johnson said she was Merkley’s third child and that all seven kids were left behind by their mother, who was estranged from her family.
Johnson said she was put in foster care just two weeks before her first birthday, just after her mother was discovered in downtown Santa Rosa, behind the locked door of a restaurant. When she refused to come out, the manager called police.
“When they arrived, they were able to open the door and see she was currently under the influence and homeless,” Johnson said from her home in Santa Rosa.
Johnson explained her mother was “bathing me in a sink. But, she also fit the description of someone who had stolen a knife that day.”
Merkley was arrested that day in 1983 — a key event that would later provide a critical clue in unraveling Jane Doe’s identity.
How did investigators identify Vacaville’s Jane Doe?
Merkley was arrested in Sonoma County for the knife theft in 1983 and booked into the Sonoma County jail, according to Vacaville police Det. Andrew Polik.
“Through the normal process, they took her fingerprints and photograph,” Polik said.
Eight years later, Merkley’s body was discovered in Vacaville. At first, there was no match to the fingerprints on record. Then this year, new technology enabled investigators to crack the case.
“A new process was developed since then, basically analyzing those digital images they have,” Polik explained. “And, the (California Department of Justice) missing persons unit in Sacramento was able to make a match to her fingerprints.”
Was Merkley headed somewhere at the time of her murder?
Merkley had been seen in Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz but, “she was on her way to Sacramento, which is where her family did live,” Johnson said.
Merkley’s mother and sister both lived in Fair Oaks, Johnson explained. The mother has since died and the sister moved to another state.
“I’d say the most difficult part was knowing she was missing for 27 and a half years and no one said anything,” Johnson said.
“How does a body go missing that long?” she added.
Johnson believes her mother likely died from a drug overdose, but she’d like to know for sure.
“It was shocking because I always had this feeling she was out there somewhere,” Johnson said. She always hoped, “that I could find her and let her know that I’m here for her — and that I forgive her.”
How can you help with the case?
Vacaville police believe that someone out there has information that can determine exactly how Merkley died.
“It’s a big mystery,” Polik said. “She was out there for two to three weeks perhaps. Nobody knows how she got there.”
Police are asking for anyone with leads about this case to call Polik at 707-469-4814.
This story originally appeared on KCRA.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Daughter-of-Vacaville-Jane-Doe-shocked-to-hear-13717260.php.