Is Jennifer Goodwin White really dead?
The Alaska State Troopers say she is.
Her sister, Sarah Musgrove-Short, says she isn't.
Nearly 15 years ago police found a skull and other remains in a Kasilof driveway. Forensic examination determined the remains were those of Jennifer Rachel (Goodwin) White.
"Back in 1996 when they identified the remains of Jennifer White they used two different methods and Jennifer White is deceased according to us," said Alaska State Trooper Jim Stogsdill, an investigator with the cold case unit. "We used dental records, teeth and X-rays from the hospital."
Jennifer Goodwin White had grown up on the central Kenai Peninsula and attended Soldotna High School.
She was a bit of a free spirit. In the late 1980s, when she was 18, she married an older man she met at a bluegrass festival Outside. His name was Art White.
She left White in 1990 and moved back to Alaska, but the two never divorced.
"The main reason she left was because she wanted to party hardy all the time," White told the Peninsula Clarion in 2009. Attempts by the Clarion to reconnect with White recently were unsuccessful.
Six years after they separated, the petite and striking 25-year-old woman's remains turned up in that Kasilof driveway. Her disappearance became a homicide investigation. And by all accounts, that should've ended the public profile of Jennifer Goodwin.
Then, earlier this month a Facebook profile surfaced with the name Jennifer Goodwin and an interesting "About Me" section:
It has been a strange 15 years but things are better now. I got knocked on the head and lost my memory for a while but I am happily mostly back to normal, minus most of the last 16 years. And I have a wonderful family and am reconnecting with those I remember. Do you know me.. add me even if I don't seem to remember you. I am trying to add all the people I know so if you can tell me when you request me as a friend how you know me it would be helpful. I started this page at my therapists suggestion so if you can help me it would be appreciated.
Information on the Facebook page said Jennifer Goodwin was in the class of 1989 at Soldotna High School, which would have been her final year. It also listed her birthday as Oct. 22, 1970, the same date of birth on Jennifer Goodwin White's State of Alaska court records.
An early Facebook wall entry read:
So it has been a long time since I have seen friends and family and I am slowly getting my bearings. I am so lucky my sister stepped in to raise my kids while I was 'dead.' I can't imagine what they all went through. It is going to take me a while
January 17 at 6:57 p.m.
Early posts on the wall revealed Jennifer went by the name Rose and was somewhere in the Midwest. Initial information on the page indicated she could've lived near Tulsa, Okla.
The profile also had photographs of what were said to be Jennifer's children. Scanned in, washed out pictures of pre-pubescent adolescents. One photograph had an orange analog date in the lower right hand corner -- Aug. 9, 2004.
Last month the sister, Musgrove-Short, who lives in Anchorage, left the state to visit Jennifer in the Lower 48. She would not say where she went.
She said her sister was using Facebook as a tool to help her piece together the past.
"She's trying to add anybody that can help her get back her memory or if they remember her they should add her," Musgrove-Short said in a telephone interview with the Clarion last month. "There's been some amazing developments and they're welcome to add her."
As of Wednesday afternoon, between about 1:45 and 2 p.m., the Facebook page disappeared. It's no longer there.
Kurt Nelson, a 40-year-old truck driver who lives in Sterling, came across Jennifer's profile while he was surfing Facebook in January.
"I was just dinking around looking at stuff on Facebook and I saw the name Jennifer Goodwin and saw the picture in front of it and thought, 'No way,'" he said. "It seemed like I remember hearing she was, in fact, dead."
Nelson went to high school with Jennifer. They were acquaintances and would hang around between classes and chat in the hallways.
"We weren't real close. I really wouldn't be able to tell you anything away from school," he said. "She was a very pleasant person, always nice, always had a smile."
Nelson said he was shocked to find out she was alive on Facebook.
"It makes me wonder what the hell happened," he said.
So he requested to add her as a friend.
"I sent her a little letter on there," he said. Something like, "It's really weird that you are alive."
They had a conversation over a series of messages and he said she told him she suffered a brain injury and doesn't recollect the past.
"She said she doesn't remember me," Nelson said. She "doesn't remember anyone she went to school with, anything about her childhood."
"If somebody suffered head trauma or whatever that's totally valid," he said.
But he's still skeptical.
"I don't know how much of the whole story I buy," he said. "Somebody that supposedly disappeared from right here and suddenly shows up in Oklahoma or wherever she's at; I don't think it's possible.
"There's a lot of questions like I said, that who knows if they're ever going to be answered," Nelson added.
How did she remember who she was all of a sudden?
"Did she go into some kind of a database to find out missing persons from all over the world to find out who she was?" he asked. "I'm not real savvy on a computer. I know I could not find that stuff out."
Nelson said he thinks there's a lot of hidden information that Jennifer is holding back.
"There's a lot of something going on," he said.
Authorities are still investigating Jennifer's case as a homicide.
"No one has been charged in this case yet. It's still open," Stogsdill said. "Even though there might be some people who have surfaced and were interesting along the way it doesn't look like there will be charges anytime soon."
A Dec. 15, 2009, Clarion article described the close-knit relationship between Jennifer's estranged husband, White, and her sister, Musgrove-Short. The story also reported a new lead in the cold case. An anonymous caller had contacted Stogsdill's unit about the unsolved case, saying a man in Washington state said he had information about Jennifer's murder.
After investigators did some research on the man identified by the caller, they determined he was living in the area at the time Jennifer was killed.
"He knew some of the family members and beyond that there isn't anything else other than a person pointing him out," Stogsdill was quoted as saying in the article.
Nothing came from that tip.
Troopers were aware of the Facebook page, but do not think there was anything behind it. In fact, Stogsdill suggested that Musgrove-Short may have created it.
"The thing that's happening now with the Facebook, we have no involvement in that whatsoever," Stogsdill said. "(Musgrove-Short) did say that she had some plans of her own to see if she could drum up some information and this may be a part of that but I don't know."
Troopers did not remove Jennifer's Facebook page. And they would not have taken any such action.
According to Stogsdill, it never had an effect on the investigation.
"Because it is a social network you can pretty much say whatever you want to say or do whatever you want to do," Stogsdill said.
Stogsdill said that it is not common to see impersonations of people from cold case murders like this one.
"Sometimes you'll see that kind of thing in financial crimes, people trying to get money pretending to be somebody else that's alive, but not usually in murder cases too much," he said.
When Sonja Williams was contacted by her childhood best friend a short time ago she said she was hesitant.
Jen was supposed to be dead.
omg....it has been so long!! I really missed you. So how do you feel? This is so strange. How did everyone react? they must have been blown away by this...you are a miracle my friend...walking proof...there are miracles.
January 17 at 7:13 p.m.
Williams, who uses an alias on Facebook, went to Soldotna High School in the 1980s. She is now married and lives in the Lower 48. Williams is her maiden name.
After corresponding via messages and even talking to her on the phone, Williams is convinced Jennifer is alive.
"When I heard her voice I knew it was her," Williams said by telephone. "Plus, I've seen pictures."
Jennifer's profile had about a dozen photographs of a blond and blue-eyed woman. Most of the photographs appeared to be washed out and old. In some, the woman pictured had a younger, fuller face.
I hate having my photo taken so over the last few years I don't have much to post. When my sister gets here we will take some and post them.
January 17 at 6:57 p.m.
Williams said Jennifer was asking her old friends to remind her how they knew her.
"She had no clue who anybody was," she said.
But Williams had no problem remembering. She gently tried to remind Jennifer of their friendship on Facebook.
We grew up together...we were very close, very good friends. We use to talk for hours about what seemed to outsiders useless things, but not useless to us. You are sweet, kind, caring, and above all the most loyal friend. We were suppose to grow up and be roommates forever...not sure if you remember that ...
January 19 at 7:03 a.m.
Williams said she knows it's her.
"She has a locket from me when we were 13 years old and my name is on the locket," Williams said.
And if Jen is alive, then whose skull did police find in 1996?
Sherry Turkle is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For 30 years she's studied the complex relationships between people and technology, especially cyberspace. She has written numerous books on the subject, including the latest, "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other."
Turkle says people are increasingly interchanging Facebook pages and profiles for their actual friends.
"We've gotten into the habit of looking at a page and seeing a person. We don't even know the difference," she said from her office in Massachusetts.
In her book, she writes about the notion of people performing online with social networking tools.
"I mean that's what's happened to us. And sometimes, it's not the person, because it's the person performing themselves and distorting themselves," she said. "We really put on a performance of ourselves when we go on Facebook."
In that way, it's easy for people to perform as others -- through the use of social networking. Take those political impersonators that send tweets or faux Facebook pages for celebrities.
"We're flattening out what a person is," Turkle said. "A person is a full-bodied person, not a set of messages and communications that are left on a page.
"Just because it appears on Facebook doesn't mean there's a person behind it."
According to a Facebook spokesman, the company policy is to remove profiles that are determined to be false.
"It's a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity," the spokesman wrote in an e-mail statement. "We will consider removing a profile if we determine that it is not authentic and false information is being communicated on it.
"Facebook is based on real people making real-world connections and people on Facebook will get the most value out of the site by using their real identity." The spokesman asked not to be identified.
Shortly after the Clarion contacted Facebook, Jennifer's profile page could not be found online. The company will not comment on individual accounts. It is still uncertain what happened to it or why it vanished.
Today has been trying. While I have made progress and am finding out WHO I am or was, I am not sure Jennifer fits me. I am so used to being called Rose. I am struggling to remember each person I add as a friend. I want to know what happened to me, quick flashes of my past are not enough anymore. I hate this! So I add anyone who requests it but it does not mean I remember you. How do you know me?
January 19 at 11:32 a.m.
For a brief time a lot of people knew Jennifer. Some knew her because she had disappeared, victim to some uncertain, likely sinister fate.
And some people never forgot her.
Now she's gone -- again.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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