What happened to Jo Ann Fox? Terre Haute Police exhume body in hopes of solving 54-year-old cold case

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — In the early morning hours of June 24, 1967, Jo Ann Fox’s roommate made a grisly discovery. The 32-year-old mother of three was dead in her bed in their Terre Haute apartment.

Fox had been raped and struck by a blunt object; however, authorities said blunt force was not the cause of her death. Despite an extensive investigation that included interviewing more than 50 people, the investigation eventually went cold. It wasn’t until June 2018 that the case was revisited.

While working on another cold case – the murder of Pam Milam – Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen was put in touch with one of Fox’s family members. A year later, he came across Fox’s file in the police archives. At that time, Keen was able to assign the case to Detective Brad Rumsey of the THPD violent crimes unit.

Now, police have found a person of interest in the case – a man who would have been 22 years old at the time of the death. After tracking him down, police obtained a DNA sample. But, that alone won’t be enough to solve the case. Police need additional forensic evidence from Fox herself. So, on Wednesday morning, with the family’s blessing, her body was exhumed.

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Terre Haute police exhume the body of Jo Ann Fox. After 54 years, authorities are hoping new DNA evidence will solve her murder. (WTWO Photo/Zeke Torres)

“I know that’s a drastic investigative measure,” Keen said. “But in this case, I know, 54 years have passed; we feel – in consultation with the family and they agree – that this is the right thing to do at this time.”

Not only are exhumations considered drastic, they are uncommon.

“It’s very rare,” Keen said. “We’ve never done it as an agency.”

To Keen’s knowledge, it’s only been done in the state a few times in the past several years. One reason for the rarity is everything that goes into an exhumation.

Keen explained that an agency must get approval from the state board of health before exhuming a body, and a funeral director must help facilitate the process. In this case, authorities also acquired a search warrant.

“And then we had to organize all the steps,” Keen said. “We want to be respectful, we want to do this very efficiently.”

“It’s been a four and a half month process from the time we decided to do this until (Wednesday) morning,” Keen said.

The department completed the exhumation and the re-interment in just one day, in order to be as respectful as possible while still gathering the necessary evidence. Even after 54 years, police are hopeful the new evidence will help close the case.

“If you had said the word ‘DNA’ no one would have known what you were talking about,” Keen said of the 60s. “So now, we have not only DNA, we went from a very long process and developed DNA to touch DNA to now genetic genealogy.”

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In addition to the “obvious forensic evidence” gathered during the process, Keen said the department is calling attention to the case for another reason.

“We still believe there are some (witnesses) that are out there that we are not able to find,” Keen said. “And the reason for that is that in a case that old, just like the 60s and 70s, the information that was collected on witnesses back then was relatively simple information. It was there name, maybe an address, and that doesn’t do you much good when you’re 50 years into the future.”

Keen said without a date of birth and maybe a social security number, it is hard to find witnesses interviewed at the time of the crime.

“We’re hoping that the more attention that is called on this case, maybe someone out there might remember something or been a witness and come forward.”

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Authorities aren’t the only ones hoping to bring resolution to the case

“Well, I think it’s long overdue, but I’m glad that we’re finally here,” Fox’s son Jeff said.

Jeff Fox was just 13 when his mother died.

“I was at my grandma’s house, and the detectives came, and we were kids, so we were all asked to leave the house,” Fox said. “Afterwards, my grandma told me that mom was dead, and that’s about all I can remember.”

Jeff said getting closure on this case would mean the world to him, and he had a message for anyone with information.

“I would say that if they know something, please come forward,” he said. “I’ve lived all my life without mom, and that’s really hard.”

For now, he holds on to the good memories, such as his mom teaching him card tricks as a child.

“She was a good person, you know,” he said. “I remember we would sit down and play games together.”

Anyone who was previously interviewed by police in the case or anyone who has information should contact Det. Rumsey at 812-244-2667 or Sgt. Troy Davis at 812-244-2218.

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