LEAGUE CITY, Texas (KTRK) — In 1986, Audrey Lee Cook was 30 years old and living in Houston with her roommate and a new kitten named Caesar. She had moved to Texas from California nine years earlier, ready for adventure.
Audrey’s family lived in Memphis, Tennessee. The distance was hard, but she stayed close to her mother, writing letters every couple weeks.
A letter from 1985 reads: “Dear Mom and Dad, how are you? We’re fine. It’s been hot here since the rain stopped. One day last week, it was 100 degrees.”
Audrey’s letters spelled out her very ordinary life. Her stories filled page after page, discussing the weather, complaining about a boss, telling her mother how much she missed home.
“She was a teenager and had a motorcycle. She liked to go camping with the family. She was just very happy,” said Audrey’s aunt, Shirley Love.
Around Christmas 1985, those letters stopped. Audrey Lee seemed to have vanished.
“She was enjoying life. Then, someone took that joy from her,” Love said. “They took her from us.”
At first, Audrey’s mother and aunt thought their free-spirited Audrey Lee just wanted to do her own thing. But, she would never abandon the family, Love said.
“I began to search after about a year thinking this is not like her. I began to search. When the internet came along. I could search better.”
Love tracked down Audrey’s past landlords in Channelview and in Houston. She found Audrey’s former boss at a balloon party store and the roommate Audrey moved to Texas with in the ’70s. People remembered Audrey, but no one seemed to know what happened to her.
“My personality is not one to give up,” said Love.
What Love didn’t know then is that Audrey Lee had been found dead, murdered two months after sending her last letter. Audrey’s family never got the call because police didn’t know it was Audrey.
On Feb. 2, 1986, two children playing in the woods near a dirt bike trail found the body of a 16-year-old girl, not far from Calder Road, south of League City. That teen was identified as Laura Miller, who had been missing for 17 months. The story had been big news in League City.
That same day, laying a few feet from Laura Miller, detectives found Audrey Lee’s decomposed body. Police called her Jane Doe. She had no identification. She had been shot in the back. A few of her ribs were broken.
Police collected business cards, keys, shoes, hair around Audrey’s body. It was difficult to tell what was evidence and what was trash.
For 33 years, investigators tried to identify Audrey Lee. More than 500 miles from League City, Audrey’s family wondered: where was she?
“In the 33 years that I looked for her, there was probably never a six-month period of time that I was not doing something,” Love said.
Three years ago, Det. Gina Vogel with the League City Police Department started working on the case.
“I think she kind of got pushed aside. That’s not right. That’s not fair,” Vogel said.
Before Vogel could find out who killed their Jane Doe, she had to find out who Jane Doe was.
In 2016, Vogel and a team of detectives contacted a company called Parabon Snapshot. Parabon extracted DNA from the bones more than three decades old produced a picture of what Jane Doe looked like when she was alive.