Woman married into notorious Boston crime family identified as Davie cold case victim

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Maehgan Smith has always known something happened to her mother. It was the only explanation for why she had grown up without her, why she had not been seen or heard from since her mother left Massachusetts in 1983 and did not return.

That’s what Smith’s relatives always told her: Her mother would have come back to her if she could have. The belief was only recently confirmed without a doubt.

Smith’s mother, Lori Jane Kearsey, of Gloucester, Mass., was married to a member of a notorious Boston crime family. She was murdered some time in February 1984, her body found in a Davie canal.

Questions still surround why and how Kearsey ended up in Florida and under what circumstances. A killer has not been arrested.

Kearsey was an unidentified “Jane Doe” for nearly 40 years. Davie Police identified her in early 2023, giving way to the start of their investigation and search for the person responsible.

Maehgan Smith listens during a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, at the Davie Police Department as they disclose to reporters that her mother, Lori Jane Kearsey, was the victim of a cold case murder in 1984. .(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Feb. 18, 1984

A passerby walking in the rural area near the 2600 block of Southwest 130th Avenue discovered a woman’s decomposing body floating in a canal on Feb. 18, 1984. The area at the time was little more than orange groves, Det. Eddy Velazquez told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday.

Kearsey was one of several cold case victims whose bodies were found discarded in canals in a years-long span at the time in that area, Velazquez said.

About a year after Kearsey’s body was found, the body of Carrie Weldgen was found in a canal on the northeast corner of Southwest 121st Avenue and Southwest 36th Court — about two miles away. In 1987, Marilyn Decker’s body was found in a canal in the the 3000 block of Flamingo Road, also a few miles away form where Kearsey was found. Decker’s and Weldgen’s murders are also unsolved.

“There was nothing out there,” Velazquez said. “It was easy access because that was considered back then kind of part of the Everglades.”

Kearsey was found wearing jean shorts, naked from the waist up, according to a Sun Sentinel news report from March 1984. She had been strangled. Detectives estimated she was between 24 and 30 years old with blond hair, about 5-feet-4-inches tall and about 120 pounds. She had a distinctive gap between her front teeth that may have been filled in. A simple sketch of the woman accompanied the short article, but no other details.

An article appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on March 2, 1984, reporting that Davie Police were seeking help to identify the body of a woman who was found in a Davie canal on Feb. 18, 1984. (Newspapers.com)

Velazquez said the initial investigation uncovered little to no information at the time, without knowing who the woman was.

“There was no leads, no witnesses,” he said. “There was nothing.”

Getting a name

Davie Police reopened the cold case in 2022, after identifying another cold case victim from 1975 as Carolyn Dunn Moudy, who was also found dead in a canal. The process used to identify Moudy is similar to how Kearsey was identified.

First, the police department asked Louisiana State University’s Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services Laboratory, abbreviated as FACES, to create a forensic digital photo of the unidentified woman, which was based on photos taken by Heather Walsh-Haney, an anthropologist who leads the Forensic Studies Program at Florida Gulf Coast University.

A forensic digital image created by LSU’s FACES Laboratory shows what the woman who was found dead in a Davie canal in February 1984 was believed to have looked like. She was later identified as Lori Jane Kearsey in early 2023. (Courtesy/Davie Police Department)

The next step was extracting DNA from Kearsey’s bones. Marshall University’s Science Forensic Center performed the extraction and sent the resulting DNA to a technology company called Parabon for genome sequencing.

Then, the company’s chief genetic genealogist CeCe Moore put together a family tree with names of possible relatives of the victim, the police department said, and Davie Police Crime Scene Investigator Bertha Hurtado and Velazquez began making calls. The first call they made was to Kearsey’s sister.

Smith said she heard from Hurtado and Velazquez this February, almost exactly to the date of the 39th anniversary of her mother’s body being discovered. Within days, she submitted a DNA sample to the Gloucester Police Department, which was processed by the private DNA laboratory Bode technology and confirmed the match.

“I think once everybody saw the pictures and composites, we knew 100% it was her,” Smith said.

Few answers

Kearsey gave birth to Smith when she was 17 years old. She and Smith’s father were not married.

She later married the member of the Boston crime family, who she met in 1982 while working at nightclub in Massachusetts called New York, New York, Smith said. Neither Smith nor Velazquez would release the identity of Kearsey’s husband or his family name.

She was 23 years old when she was killed.

Her family last saw her about the time of Thanksgiving 1983. The story Smith has heard of how her mother left Massachusetts differs, she said.

Maehgan Smith attends a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, at the Davie Police Department. Her mother, Lori Jane Kearsey, was identified as the “Jane Doe” in a 1984 cold case in early 2023. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

One of Smith’s aunts has told her that Kearsey’s best friend’s husband dropped her off at the airport. Another of Kearsey’s relatives has said Kearsey was picked up by people who claimed they were law enforcement. Some had heard that she may have been entered into the federal witness protection program.

“There’s a lot of rumors …  I don’t think anybody remembers it,” Smith said. “Nobody knew it was going to be the last time they ever talked to her.”

Kearsey was never reported missing in Massachusetts or Florida, Smith said.

It is not known who took Kearsey to the airport, if she went directly to Florida or elsewhere first, if she was alone or with someone, why she was leaving or when exactly she got to Florida. Velazquez said these are all questions they’re still trying to answer.

Without sharing details, Velazquez said they have identified people of interest who are still alive. He would not say whether they are in Massachusetts or Florida because of the active investigation.

The man Kearsey married is still alive, but Velazquez would not say whether he is a suspect or where he is. They are still working leads, awaiting other DNA test results, he said.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, at the Davie Police Department, Lori Jane Kearsey was identified as a victim of a cold case murder from 1984. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Smith sat at a table inside the Davie Police Department on Tuesday afternoon, the digital composite image and two family photos of her mother projected on a screen behind her baring a striking resemblance. Kearsey held Smith on her hip as an infant in one photo.

“I actually never knew how much I needed that closure until it happened,” Smith said.

She now has her own daughters, ages 18 and 21. Seeing them near the age that her mother was when she was murdered is a poignant reminder.

“My whole life I knew something happened to her, but now to have the closure,” Smith said. “She was a kid. She could have grown up … She never got a chance.”

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