UNSOLVED: 'Princess Blue' found dead on Manvel gravel road nearly 30 years ago

MANVEL, Texas (KTRK) -- There are stories behind the jewelry we wear: a special gift; a family heirloom; a promise for a future life together.

Inside a yellow evidence envelope at the Manvel Police Department, one woman's jewelry tells a story detectives don't yet understand: a delicate pearl bracelet; a diamond band; a silver ring with a unicorn made from turquoise stones.

A woman treasured these pieces until she was found dead at the end of a gravel road on Sept. 10, 1990.

Her bones were discovered on County Road 101, east of what's now Highway 288 in Manvel. CR 101 is now a four-lane highway surrounded by new homes and a Walgreens. Back then, it was a two-lane, dead end road.

In 1990, about 3,000 people lived in Manvel. Today, more than 10,000 people live there.

"It would have been a perfect spot (to dump a body) because there was nothing out here," said Keith Traylor, chief of Manvel police.

On that day, a man on his way home from work happened to park on the side of the road to relieve himself. He got out of his car and stumbled into a pile of bones. The man called his wife and they called police.

Matt Wingo was one of the first to show up. Wingo, now retired, was a deputy with the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office.

"I remember the tires. I remember her skull being under a tire. I remember her being disarticulated and everywhere, which is what it's going to be when you're out in the country," Wingo said.

Twenty years later, he can still picture the scene in his mind.

"You've seen so many things that - you don't have the same emotion. Yeah, it bothers you. But, it's not something you take home and have to live with," Wingo said. "I had a woman ask me once which case has caused me the greatest PTSD. I said, 'I don't have PTSD. None of them bother me. That's what I'm supposed to do, that's my job.'"

Wingo and the detectives collected the bones and the jewelry found nearby. There was no purse, no ID, no clothing, no hair found around the skeleton.

Days later, the autopsy didn't reveal much. The medical examiner couldn't say for sure how the woman died. There were no drugs in the woman's system. She had a couple of fractured ribs. At the time, it was believed she was likely between 15 and 19 years old.

Who was she?

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Investigators put the word out, asking for help identifying the woman with the turquoise unicorn ring and pearl bracelet. The case got little attention from the media. It went cold.

Sixteen years later, a curious detective literally reopened the evidence envelope and made a startling discovery. Something previous detectives looked over. Among the rings collected was a class ring from Robert E. Lee High School in Houston with the year "1975" carved on the side. There was a big blue sapphire in the middle.

"The stone that's inside of it, that blue stone, is the reason they named her 'Princess Blue,'" said Det. Anthony Meshell, with Manvel police.

In 2006, she got her name. A year later, she got a face.

A sketch artist studied Princess Blue's bones and drew a couple of forensic sketches: one woman with short hair and one woman with long hair.

DNA technology had also advanced by then. Police learned Princess Blue was likely white with some black ancestors, possibly a mother or grandmother. She could have been as old as 21.

Investigators were making progress. They honed in on the ring searching for any connection to Lee High School. Records of who bought a class ring in 1975 were long gone. That didn't stop detectives from tracking down more than half of the 650 students who graduated from Lee that year.

"Lee in the 70s was a pretty stereotypical high school," said Alex Johnson, who graduated in 1974. "I wouldn't say I knew everybody. But, I did know a lot of people."

Johnson, active in the alumni group, remembers detectives contacting many of his classmates a decade ago. He doesn't recognize Princess Blue. Neither do his peers we spoke with.

Could she be somebody's niece? A cousin? An ex-girlfriend? Hundreds of alumni were interviewed.

"You hear about it all the time: class rings turning up and being returned to their owner, right? Well, here we have a class ring that's turned up. If we could return it to its owner, we could solve the mystery of this girl," Johnson said. "A lot of focus was put on the ring and maybe some focus could have been put on other areas."

Det. Anthony Meshell and the other investigators agree. More than a decade after Princess Blue attracted attention from all over the country because of that class ring, Meshell is tackling the case from a different perspective. He's focused on DNA.

"We're going to look at the facts. The class ring was found near the body but we can't prove this class ring really had anything to do with this person," Meshell said.

Blue's bones are going back to a lab in Austin. Meshell is hoping there's enough of it found for phenotyping. It's a process that could tell police Princess Blue's eye, hair and skin color, whether or not she had freckles, plus her genetic ancestry.

"We're all excited. Everyone from the forensics office is excited. The lady that drew these pictures, she was really excited," Meshell said. "One of my hopes is that when we do this phenotyping and we get another sketch of this person, that someone may recognize her. That would be the ultimate, the best case scenario."

Matt Wingo waits for that day too. He chased countless leads, interviewed suspects and never figured out who this girl was. If detectives can determine that, they can focus on finding the killer.

"Who did it is most important. Because he's going to do it again unless you catch him," Wingo said.

Princess Blue was somebody's daughter, maybe somebody's sister or girlfriend. Somebody missed her. That's what keeps Meshell and his team pushing forward.

If you have any information about the Princess Blue cold case, submit a tip to Brazoria County Crime Stoppers here or call Manvel police at 281-489-1212.

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