March 24, 2009 in Nation/World

‘Jane Doe’ identified, 15 years after getting lost

Lieutenant says case irked him constantly
Samantha Henry Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Lt. Eduardo Ojeda talks Monday in Trenton, N.J., about identifying Elba Leonor Diaz Soccares 15 years after she was found wandering in a mall.
(Full-size photo)

TRENTON, N.J. – A mute elderly woman known only as “Jane Doe” since she was found wandering in a New Jersey mall 15 years ago has finally been identified.

Lt. Eduardo Ojeda of the New Jersey Department of Human Services police discovered recently that the woman is Elba Leonor Diaz Soccarras, who turns 75 on Saturday. She has Alzheimer’s disease and has been bedridden in a New Jersey psychiatric hospital for years. Her identity, partly obscured because she and her daughter had a falling-out, was established thanks to tips from the public and Colombian officials.

Ojeda said her case file landed on his desk six years ago and that he exhausted all means to try to determine her identity.

“It was always on my mind; it really kind of bothered me,” Ojeda said. “As someone said: ‘You don’t find peace until you find all the pieces.’ ”

Diaz was found at the Woodbridge Center mall in 1994. She was well-dressed and carrying an empty purse, but was disoriented and unable to speak. Her fingerprints yielded no database hits. Unable to determine if she was a U.S. citizen, and therefore eligible for nursing home placement under Medicare, she was committed to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital.

Ojeda decided to launch a public appeal after receiving a call last summer from the New Jersey courts, where Diaz’s institutionalization was up for periodic review.

Tips flooded in: She had lived in Brooklyn for years, supporting her only daughter with various factory jobs. She was frequently seen wandering around Woodbridge. She was frequently spotted, her hair always nicely done, wandering outside a Woodbridge grocery store carrying two shopping bags full of clothes. She even once uttered part of her name.

Tips also led them to her daughter, still living in Brooklyn, whose birth certificate revealed Diaz’s full name and nationality.

The daughter, whom Ojeda declined to name, said they had a falling-out when the daughter was young and hadn’t spoken since. The woman was shocked to hear about her mother because she assumed Diaz had returned to Colombia decades ago.

With Diaz’s identity and legal immigration status established, she has been approved for Supplemental Security Income assistance and Medicaid and is awaiting transfer to a nursing home, according to New Jersey’s Department of Human Services.

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