Texas cold case linked to missing Salina teen

Family says news is “terrible” but a “relief”
Texas cold case linked to missing Salina teen
Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 3:39 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Texas authorities have identified a woman who drowned in a motel pool in the small town of Pecos more than 50 years ago as a Salina teenager missing since 1966.

It was an announcement Pecos, Texas Police Chief Lisa Tarango said she was proud to finally make. The girl was known only as Pecos Jane Doe for the last 55 years. Finally, she has a name. They now know she was Jolaine Hemmy of Salina.

Jolaine was just 17 years old when she went missing from Kansas City in 1966. The identification was finally made through a genetic DNA match. Chief Tarango delivered the news in person to her family in Salina last week.

“It was just information, as a family, that I had to tell them face to face,” Tarango told Factfinder 12. “I wanted them to know that Jolaine was not forgotten about, and she was very much loved by our community and our community has a real attachment to her.”

One of Jolaine’s 14 siblings, Rosemary Divilbiss said the revelation was both welcome and tragic all at the same time.

“(I feel) terrible but yet I’m relieved. Our whole family is because we’ve wondered all these years,” Divilbiss said. “I think we all knew she’d been murdered, but after so many years, you just figure she was.”

Authorities have not said they are investigating the case as a homicide. They do want to know how a small-town girl from Salina, Kansas went missing from Kansas City and ended up more than 800 miles away in Pecos, Texas.

“When you look at a map, it’s like, ‘how did she end up here?’” Chief Tarango said. “It’s still unknown how she ended up here.”

What authorities do know is that Jolaine Hemmy didn’t pick up paychecks from two separate jobs she worked in Kansas City before showing up at the Ropers Motel in Pecos four days later. She was with a man, who police believe gave a fake name to hotel staff. After Jolaine’s lifeless body was discovered in the pool, that man went to the hotel clerk and asked for the card on which he’d written his hotel registration information. Police say he took the card, left and has not been seen since.

“Amongst investigators, we all agree, why didn’t he give her name at least? At least say her name. So that’s the biggest thing is why did he just leave her there?” Tarango said.

The case remains open, now, with its biggest lead in more than five decades.

“This is a very tough one,” Tarango said. “At least I can tell the family here she (Jolaine) is. She will be forever 17 to them, and for me, it is heartbreaking. I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to give them more detail than what we’ve given.”

Whether or not those details ever come, Rosemary Divilbiss said she believes her parents, who have now passed away, would have found peace in finally knowing what they know now. Buried without a name but embraced by an entire community, Pecos Jane Doe was loved even in death, and Jolaine Hemmy will finally be coming home.

“We have a catholic cemetery out here and we all have our plots out there and that’s where she’ll be. Back with us,” Rosemary said.

Police describe the man who checked into the motel with Jolaine as being around 25 years old, with blonde hair, slight build and possibly driving a Mercury sedan.

If you think you have any information that may help solve this case, you’re asked to contact the Pecos Police Department.

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