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A Flower Plucked Too Early

The 1986 Murder of 28-Year-Old Botanist Jane Marie Prichard

By Hailey CorumPublished 6 years ago 3 min read
Jane Marie Prichard

1986—The year of the Hands Across America charity, the debut of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the first Studio Ghibli film, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, 1986 also marks the year of Jane Prichard's death.

Prichard was a botanist (a student in the scientific research of plants) at the University of Maryland. It was a common site to see Jane Prichard off to the side of the state forest, engrossed in the study of plants. That particular Saturday, Prichard was studying the wild hog peanut plant. Grown on vines, this annual plant was the point of her interest. She could spend hours on her equipment as she connected electrical monitoring equipment to the leaves. The leaves on this floral structure would pivot towards the sun and the monitoring equipment would measure the movement.

Aside from her education in botany, Prichard brought her knowledge of plants home. Her mother, Audrey Prichard, recalls a time when her daughter made the family sit at the table and watch a presentation on her recent discovery. She remembers the slides tracking the progressive growth of a bean plant.

On September 20, 1986, Jane Prichard arrived in Blackbird State Forest around 7 AM after driving 115 miles from her home in Clarksburg. A couple from New Jersey then discovered Prichard's lifeless body hours later, 20 feet away from her equipment that evening. The cause of death was hemorrhage from a shotgun wound. The lack of evidence the murderer left was astonishing—a single hair. There was not a motive, a suspect, or a single concrete lead. The only fact New Castle County Police knew for sure was this was no mishap. Someone deliberately made the choice to end this young girl's life. The police also stated there had to have been 25-50 hunters amongst the 7,000 acres of land at the time of the crime.

The following Monday after the homicide, a squirrel hunter who was in the area claimed to have seen someone with Jane momentarily before she was murdered. He described the man for the sketch artist. New Castle County Police Department released the image to the press.

The police interviewed the squirrel hunter a couple more times after releasing the sketch. However, they became more suspicious of the man due to several story inconsistencies. Becoming increasingly weary, officials locked him up in early October. According to The News Journal, "...police charged him with first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon during commission of a felony. He was held without bail." Although police figured they had the criminal confined, they wanted to test their facts using a brand new feature—DNA evidence. In the 80s, DNA testing was so new that there was only one lab able to process the evidence.

Investigators obtained a search warrant and searched the hunter's home. If they were correct, the DNA taken from the presumed criminal would match the hair found at the crime scene. Contrary to what the police suspected, the hair found near Jane Prichard's body did not match the DNA of the hunter. In 1987, all charges were dropped, and the sole suspect of the murder case was free to go.

After nearly 300 interviews conducted, New Castle County Police was still lost in the case. They were left without a lead, once again did not have any suspects, and still, they did not discover a motive.

Weeks turned into months and there was no sign of the Jane Prichard case moving anywhere. The case was officially moved to the cold case files until 2015. In 2015, a new cold case team tackled the long-forgotten murder. Of course, the Prichard family was delighted to hear that the tragedy was still being investigated. It gave them a sign of hope.

Ultimately, the new cold case experts were unable to discover any new evidence or follow any leads. To this day, the Jane Marie Prichard homicide remains unsolved.


About the Creator

Hailey Corum

Hello! My name is Hailey Corum. I am a 14-year-old in the U.S. working towards a journalism scholarship. My long-term goal is to graduate from Harvard University and become a lawyer in criminal justice.

@Writing_is_my_hobby on Instagram!

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    Hailey CorumWritten by Hailey Corum

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