Victim in 1981 Brooks Co. murder case identified as fair worker

Nearly 39 years after it happened, investigators were able to identify Shirlene...
Nearly 39 years after it happened, investigators were able to identify Shirlene "Cheryl" Ann Hammack as the victim of a Brooks County murder. (Photo: GBI)(WCTV)
Published: Jan. 9, 2020 at 11:15 AM EST
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By: Pat Mueller | WCTV Eyewitness News

January 9, 2020

BROOKS COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that it has identified the victim in a 1981 Brooks County murder case.

Nearly 39 years after it happened, investigators were able to identify Shirlene "Cheryl" Ann Hammack as the victim of the murder.

On Halloween in 1981, the Brooks County Sheriff's Office asked the GBI Region 9 Field Office for help in a homicide investigation. The body of an unidentified white woman was discovered beside a small, dirt lane entrance to a corn field in Dixie.

The victim was covered slightly with fresh cut limbs and foliage to hide her and the crime. Deputies described the victim as a young white woman, about 5 feet and 2 inches tall, weighing around 105 pounds with shoulder-length brown hair and hazel eyes.

At the time, she was thought to be between 18 and 24 years old. Investigators determined at the time she died after she was stabbed in the stomach and choked.

Since she was not able to be positively identified, authorities called her Jane Doe.

Shortly after the murder, George Newsome, a white man who was 52 at the time, was arrested. He was part of a traveling fair that was making a stop in the town of Quitman.

Investigators believed Doe was part of the traveling fair too, but it was unknown at the time.

When Newsome was arrested, he had a stolen motor home from another state. After investigators searched the home, they found the rope that was used to strangle Doe. They also found the knife that was used in the murder.

At first, Newsome refused to cooperate with investigators and he said he knew nothing about the murder. About a week after he was arrested, he escaped from the Brooks County Jail and remained a fugitive until he was arrested again in Alabama on January 13, 1983.

He admitted to the murder after his second arrest. He told investigators he met Doe at the Fair Grounds in Tallahassee before he left for Quitman. Newsome said he got in an argument with Doe about another man, and that argument led to her death.

He pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. Newsome died at the Augsta State Medical Prison on August 10, 1988, from natural causes.

Before he died, he never revealed Doe's identity.

For years following the murder, the GBI and sheriff's office used all resources possible at the time to identify Doe. Questions were sent across Georgia and the United States about other missing woman who matched her description. Before she was buried, she was displayed at a funeral home in Brooks County, in an effort for people to try to identify her.

She was then buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Quitman. Following that, the Bunting family insisted she not be buried pauper's grave, but instead be buried in their family plot in the cemetery. Instead of being buried in a wooden coffin, she was buried in a quality casket inside of a cement vault, with a marble slab over her resting place.

A forensic sketch, which the GBI drew during the investigation, was carved into the slab, along with the words "known only to God."

The case remained open for years as investigators continued to try to identify her.

On Halloween in 2018, exactly 37 years after her murder, the chief deputy of the sheriff's office reached out to the GBI case agent about a tip from a resident who said she had information about the identity of Doe.

The resident was a possible childhood friend of Doe. They believed she was Cheryl Hammack. The friend remembered her friend, Cheryl, went missing in late 1981 after traveling with a fair.

The age and description of Cheryl matched that of Doe, which peaked her friend's interest. The friend saw a Facebook post a person who lives near Brooks County made about the case. It was shared widely, so that's how the childhood friend saw it.

Following the tip, GBI agents and Brooks County investigators spoke with and met Hammack's surviving family members, which included her mother and sisters. The description of Hammack's disappearance from her family matched the facts of the investigation.

Investigators got a known DNA sample from Hammack's biological mother. The mother told them she got a letter in the mail following Hammack's disappearance with the contents of her wallet, including a Georgia driver's license. The envelope did not have a return address.

With a court order, the GBI and Brooks County coroner and sheriff's office exhumed Doe's body. The body was in good condition because of the high-quality casket she was in.

After initial DNA tests were done at the GBI Crime Lab in Moultrie, it was determined more advanced testing would be needed, so the samples were sent to the University of North Texas Center for human identification.

After extensive analysis of the DNA samples and a comparison process, it was determined that Doe was the biological child of Kathleen Hammack. Finally, Jane Doe was identified as Shirlene Hammack.

She was originally from Thomaston, Georgia. She took a job with the fair that eventually brought her to Brooks County in 1981.

The GBI said it would like to acknowledge and thank them for their help in this case:

-Brooks County Coroner Joe Leverett

-Jim McGee of McGee Funeral Services

-Steve Owens Transport Service

-GBI Crime Lab in Macon

-GBI Crime Lab in Moultrie

-Kelly Lawson - GBI Forensic Composite Artist

-GBI Intelligence Unit

-University of North Texas - NAMUS

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