GEORGETOWN, Texas — A woman found slain in a Texas drainage ditch, wearing nothing but a pair of orange socks, on Halloween morning 1979 has been positively identified after four decades of being known only by the clothing left on her body by her killer.
Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody on Wednesday identified "Orange Socks" as Debra Jackson, 23, of Abilene. Chody said during a news conference that Jackson left home in 1977.
Jackson was found strangled to death in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 1979, in a concrete drainage culvert near Georgetown, about 30 miles north of Austin. She wore only the socks on her feet and an oval-shaped silver ring with an abalone shell or mother-of-pearl stone in the center. Her legs bore several scars that looked like healed, infected insect bites.
Chody said Wednesday that the scars were consistent with infantigo, or impetigo, scars Jackson's family described on her legs from childhood. Her family has been notified of the positive identification.
“I spoke to a family member,” Chody said. “They said, ‘We can let her rest now.’”
Because Jackson’s family never reported her missing, her information was never entered into any missing persons databases, the sheriff said. Ultimately, when no one came forward to claim her body, she was buried in a Georgetown cemetery.
Her grave marker reads, “Unidentified Woman.”
Chody said cold case investigators began the identification process by comparing photos of Debra Jackson to autopsy photos of “Orange Socks.”
Besides the impetigo scars noted on her legs, Jackson also had the same "inordinately long" toes and uniquely shaped earlobes as the homicide victim, the sheriff said.
Social Security information obtained for Jackson showed no activity after 1979, the year the Williamson County victim was killed.
The sheriff said while Jackson’s killer potentially remains at large, cold case investigators have been taking another look at male DNA found under Jackson’s fingernails, which were retrieved from evidence storage in August 2018. The clippings had sat in storage for 39 years following Jackson’s autopsy.
"DNA test results were not strong enough to generate a genetic profile," Chody said.
While attempting to get the killer’s DNA profile, investigators also began working to establish a DNA profile for “Orange Socks.”
Once they had a genetic profile, they uploaded it in June to GEDMatch, a genealogy website that last year helped California detectives crack the infamous Golden State Killer case. Since the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in that case, dozens of other cold cases have been solved across the U.S. using similar methods.
Around that same time, cold case detectives released a new sketch of Jackson in an effort to identify her. They also urged the public to submit their DNA profiles to GEDMatch.
Watch Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody talk about the identification of Debra Jackson below, courtesy of Fox 7 in Austin.
GEDMatch users must “opt in” for law enforcement to be able to use their family trees to identify nameless homicide and accident victims or to identify potential family members of killers in unsolved cases. Chody said that, although GEDMatch has 1.2 million users, only about 90 percent of those users have chosen to allow law enforcement access to their data.
On Wednesday, Chody urged the remaining 10 percent to also “opt in.”
The sheriff said it was also in June that the Sheriff's Office received a call from a woman who said the new sketch of "Orange Socks" she'd seen on the news looked like her missing sister.
The caller was Jackson’s sister.
A saliva sample taken from Jackson’s sister and compared to the genetic profile of “Orange Socks” was inconclusive. DNA samples taken from two additional Jackson family members were also inconclusive, Chody said.
Detectives then turned to the less exact mitochondrial DNA, or the DNA passed from a mother to her children. Jackson was positively identified through mitochondrial DNA.
The sheriff said cold case detectives are asking for any information the public might have about Jackson, particularly those who were living in Abilene, Amarillo or Azle in the time frame of 1977 to 1979. Jackson was working in 1977, though authorities do not know where.
In 1978, she worked at a Ramada Inn in Amarillo, Chody said. It is now known as Camelot Inn. Jackson also worked at an assisted living facility called Bermont in Azle in 1978.
"If anybody worked at any of these businesses' locations or knew Debra Jackson during this time frame, please contact our Cold Case Unit at 512-943-5204," the sheriff said.
While Chody said Wednesday that Jackson's slaying has not been solved, notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to Jackson's killing in 1982. Lucas told authorities he picked "Orange Socks" up in Oklahoma, killed her along the interstate and dumped her in the ditch in which she was found, FOX 7 in Austin reported last year.
Lucas’ confession appeared to line up with the scant physical evidence found at the scene: a matchbook near the body that was traced to a hotel in Oklahoma but offered no clues as to the dead woman’s identity.
"On the way down, bringing Lucas to Georgetown, the sheriff says Lucas pointed out the culvert where he had dropped the girl," former Williamson County District Attorney Ed Walsh told Fox 7. "We ended up indicting him and trying him for capital murder."
Lucas was convicted of killing Jackson and sentenced to death, the news station reported. He later recanted his confession, however.
"He recanted on almost all his confessions after the trial," Walsh said. "Nobody knows how many people he killed. He certainly didn't kill everybody he claimed to have killed. I would estimate about 100 folks."
The New York Times reported in 1998 that then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted Lucas' sentence in the "Orange Socks" case to one of life in prison. Bush pointed out that Lucas' confession was the only evidence linking him to the murder.
He also said there was strong evidence Lucas, who traveled extensively across the country as he killed, was in Florida at the time Jackson was slain.
At the time of the commutation, Lucas was also serving six life terms, two 75-year sentences and one 60-year sentence in connection with nine other murders, the Times reported.
Lucas confessed in the 1980s to killing 600 people in more than 20 states, sometimes with the help of his friend and occasional lover, Ottis Toole. Toole, like Lucas, was known to confess to crimes and later recant.
One of Toole's most infamous confessions was to the 1981 kidnapping and murder in Florida of Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of John Walsh, the longtime host of America's Most Wanted. He currently hosts In Pursuit with John Walsh.
Toole, who confessed multiple times to decapitating Adam and leaving his head in a canal near Vero Beach, later recanted his confession. He died of liver failure in 1996 in a Florida prison where he was serving multiple life sentences for unrelated killings.
The rest of Adam's remains, which Toole claimed he buried, were never found. Police in 2008 announced that they were closing the Walsh murder case and were satisfied that Toole was the boy's killer.
One of the people Lucas is known to have killed was his 74-year-old mother, Viola Lucas, who he stabbed to death in January 1960 at her home in Michigan. He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison.
He was released in 1975 after serving 15 years of his sentence.
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