February 19th, 1971. Two teenage hitchhikers from Illinois were walking along Interstate 75-North (which connects Florida with the rest of the Southeast) as they were exiting Tampa. As they reached the Lake Panasoffkee Bridge, one of them noticed the partially submerged body of a woman floating in the lake below. The cause of death was immediately assumed to be homicide; strangulation, as there was a men’s size-36 belt still wrapped around her neck. She had no identification but, luckily for investigators, an autopsy of the body provided a wealth of useful information.
She was young. Estimated to be between 17 and 24-years old, the Jane Doe weighed in at approximately 110 to 120-pounds and stood somewhere between 5″ and 5″5′. Her remains were badly decomposed when she was found. She is thought to have been killed weeks prior. It would later be theorized by police that she had been killed elsewhere before being tossed from the bridge. She had long brown hair. The decomposition was so advanced that medical examiners were unable to determine her eye color, though it is assumed they were brown. She was found wearing plaid green pants, a matching green shirt and a shawl with a green and white print. She also wore a gold ladies’ Baylor wristwatch and a gold ring with a clear stone on her left ring finger. She additionally wore a thin gold chain necklace.
A further examination of her bones revealed Jane Doe had extensive orthopedic surgery to her right ankle, most likely within a few years prior to her death, known as the Watson-Jones or “modified” Watson-Jones technique. This surgery was done by drilling holes in the leg bone and then winding the tendon through them. She had Periostitis on her right leg, which is inflammation around the tissue near a bone. As a result of this, she may have walked with a limp. She had also undergone quite a bit of dental work. She had several fillings, caps and a porcelain crown on one of her teeth. There was also evidence to suggest she had given birth to at least one child. After six months of investigation, with no leads to the identity of her or her killer, the young woman was laid to rest in Florida beneath a small metal marker that simply reads, “Jane Doe – 1971.”
In 1988, an unnamed woman came forward claiming she recognized the composite bust–created by artist Betty Pat Gatliff–as a runaway girl she knew briefly in 1970. The woman said the girl, who she called “Carol”, was a runaway from an undisclosed state. The girl was apparently known to hang around the area of Clearwater Beach, south of Lake Panasoffkee. This young woman also sustained an ankle injury she got from a previous runaway attempt. She had allegedly been pregnant and was forced to give up the child before running away. The woman said she last saw Carol around the fall of 1970 when she left with “three unknown men from Tampa.” It’s not been determined one way or the other if that young woman was Miss Panasoffkee.
The case of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee garnered new, national attention after it was featured on the October 14, 1992, episode of Unsolved Mysteries. It was also profiled on Cold Case Files. In 2012, further isotope testing of the Jane Doe’s teeth indicated that she had been from southeastern Europe, most likely Greece. It also revealed that she lived in Europe until about one year prior to her murder. The amount of lead in her teeth also indicated that she may have been from the mining town of Lavrio, Greece. Going off that lead, later that same year, Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee’s case was featured on an episode of a popular Greek missing persons show. Shortly after that episode aired, a viewer called in to state that she believed she knew the victim. “…she believed the victim was a friend named “Konstantina”, who had a brother serving in the Navy near Lavrio. She said that they both went to a school in Kifisia, a suburb of Athens, and were taught home economics. The caller, Konstantina, and several other girls were part of a program for the school that sent them to either the United States or Australia, with a two-year contract for work. The caller said that she had lost contact with Konstantina in 1970 when they were both sent to separate countries: the caller to Australia and Konstantina to the United States. As of yet, no new leads have surfaced on her whereabouts and her relatives have not been located.
Police and web sleuths on various forums have explored numerous theories, including that Little Miss Panasoffkee was a victim of spree killer Paul John Knowles or that she was prison escapee Sylvia Torgow. More plausible theories have surfaced, such as possible matches to missing women based on physical descriptions or circumstances; such as Mary Margaret Cook. Mary was reported missing on November 14th, 1970, by her husband, who also happens to be the prime suspect, Leathern “Earl” Cook. According to Earl, she left her home in Highland City, Florida to go on a shopping trip at the J. M. Fields store to buy Christmas presents for her two sons, then aged five and three. She has never been heard from again. Not only does Mary share similar features to the composite sketch, primarily in the nose, she is also similar in age to Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee. She also had at least one child and was suspected of being pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
There are also similarities to the case of Pamela Ann Nater who went missing in October of 1966. Pamela and her friend Nancy Leichner went on a picnic with a skin-diving club, in the Alexander Springs Recreation Area of the Ocala National Forest in Altoona, Florida between 2:00 and 3:00 P.M. on October 2nd, 1966. They attended the picnic with Leicher’s fiancee and Nater’s date. The women were last seen going into the woods together along one of the nature trails. They left their purses, clothing, shoes, Leichner’s eyeglasses, and other personal belongings behind on the picnic table. A search was organized when they didn’t return. Neither of them has ever been heard from again.
“Sherrif Jamie Adams has mailed flyers to more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada. He has contacted hundreds of hospitals and followed up hundreds of leads. Still, the identity of Little Miss Panasoffkee remains a mystery.”
Anyone with information regarding the identity of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee or her killer is encouraged to contact the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office (803) 436-2000. Her agency case number is 71-0291.