It is a story that everyone in Blairstown, N.J. knows the ending to.
The body of a teenage girl was found bludgeoned to death in the rural town’s cemetery on July 15, 1982. Thirty years later the identity of the teenager who local investigators named “Princess Doe,” as well as the identity of her killer, remain a mystery.
In “The Untold Story of Princess Doe,” Hoboken-based author Christie Leigh Napurano, 30, weaves a fictional tale of tragedy and despair based on this true story. She hopes to raise awareness about the case and ultimately find out the real identity of “Princess Doe.”
Bringing her to life
“I felt like I needed to give her a story and a life because she is a person like everyone else and she deserves that dignity,” said Napurano. This is her first novel. “I felt like it could really help the cause of finding ‘Princess Doe,’ her identity and/or her killer.”
The unidentified body of a girl between the ages of 14 and 18 was discovered in Cedar Ridge Cemetery by local maintenance workers. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. The face was bludgeoned beyond recognition. The girl was found wearing a 14 karat gold necklace with a cross; a red shirt, and a peasant skirt. She did not have any undergarments or footwear.
“The police haven’t been able to solve this in thirty years. It will take someone who knew her to come forward.” Christie Leigh Napurano
“When something like this happens, a murder and an unsolved murder, it is the talk of the town,” said Napurano. “It is a big deal.”
It was the first unsolved murder at the time.
“The townspeople couldn’t understand how this could happen in their little farm town,” said Napurano. “Hundreds of people want to know who this girl is. It has bothered everyone for years.”
An unnamed daughter
The Blairstown residents gathered funds to give “Princess Doe” a proper burial and gravestone near the site where her body was found. This past year over 100 people gathered for a memorial to recognize the 30th year anniversary of the discovery of her body.
“She is almost like their unnamed daughter,” said Napurano.
She first heard of the unsolved tale around the age of 12. It was a story that has become engraved in local folklore.
In the early 1990s another highly publicized murder surfaced of a headless, handless woman’s body in a lake. However, that victim got a name – Rosa Delgado from Connecticut.
In 2007, after reading an article about the 25th anniversary of Doe’s discovery, Napurano felt compelled to write a story of the account.
Who will claim her?
“It went through my mind time and time again,” said Napurano. “How could no one have claimed this girl?”
She was flabbergasted by the idea that this teenager didn’t have a mother, sister, cousin, teacher, or neighbor – no one who would come forward and claim her.
“How does that happen that you go missing and no one misses you?” added Napurano.
The questions floating around in her mind that caused a number of restless nights are what informed the elements of the story.
Napurano said she asked herself, “What could have possibly happened to a family that didn’t allow them to report their daughter missing?”
In “The Untold Story of Princess Doe” the main character, Julianne Martell, is seemingly an average, young teenager who lives in an affluent neighborhood in Long Island. She is the bedrock of a family that has gone through a series of tragedies. Her ability to hold it all together soon becomes impossible.
One by one, her family begins to unravel, haunted by their own tragedy and loss of her oldest sister. She is driven to desperate measures to escape the situation. So much so that family members are lost to her and no one is there for her when she meets her fate at the hands of a murderer in a small-town cemetery in New Jersey – far from the life she once knew, far from the dreams she had for herself.
While Napurano said this novel is for “people interested in a tragedy unfolding right before their eyes,” it is also for anyone who may have come across “Princess Doe” in her lifetime.
“The police haven’t been able to solve this [case] in 30 years. It will take someone who knew her to come forward,” said Napurano. “Somewhere along the line someone is going to be like, ‘Oh, maybe I know that girl.’”
The cold case has garnered national attention and has been featured on HBO, CNN, and most recently America’s Most Wanted. Napurano has done media appearances alongside Lt. Detective Stephen Speirs at the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, who is in charge of the case.
Many theories have surfaced about “Princess Doe” and her killer some of which made it into Napurano’s novel such as that she was a prostitute, and that she was from Long Island. Other theories are that she was a runaway from Maryland, that she worked at a local day camp, or that her killer is already in jail for other homicides.
“She could have come from anywhere,” said Napurano. “Lots and lots of girls were reported missing during that time but they never matched up.”
In 1999 the body of Princess Doe was exhumed from the cemetery for DNA samples and then re-buried in the same location. The police have recently discovered that she lived in two different regions from hair samples that were taken. It is believed that she spent time in the southwest region of the country, possibly Arizona, before she ended up in New Jersey. Her skirt has been identified as originating from Long Island after three individuals from that area came forward saying they owned the same skirt.
An isotope test of her teeth was recently conducted by the University of Florida in efforts to continue to search for clues and a new composite was created this past July that investigators believe is the closest likeness of her.
“Over the years this has become a cause that is near and dear to my heart,” said Napurano. She noted that it took her three years to create this character and that the most difficult part was killing her off at the end. She said she was “literally sobbing as I was writing the last chapter.”
“Above everything else, even though Julianne Martell is a fictional character, ‘Princess Doe’ is not,” she said. “She is a real person. She does have a name.”
Napurano remains hopeful that the true identity of “Princess Doe” will be discovered.
“I think the sooner we find her identity the better chance they have of finding her killer.”
Napurano has begun work on another true crime story. She currently works as the Director of Media for SDL Inc. in Hawthorne. She graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 and works in Public Relations. She has held positions at Sound Communications and Rubenstein Communications in New York City and the Hoboken International Film Festival.
Her book, which is published by SDL press, is available in hardcover ($34.95) and paperback ($14.95) online at: http://www.whoisprincessdoe.com/index.php.
The “Princess Doe” case remains open. Lt. Detective Stephen Speirs at the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office leads the ongoing investigation. His contact information is: (908) 475-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.