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Who maintains Jane Doe's roadside Rockwood memorial (and why)? We found out

The remains of Jane Doe were found at the Highway 7 rest stop almost 20 years ago, and an Acton man is making sure she isn't forgotten

ROCKWOOD – When Acton resident Keith Porty started caring for the Jane Doe memorial at the Highway 7 rest stop just outside of Rockwood, he never imagined the connection he would develop with her mystery.

Installed by the Rockwood Knights of Columbus in 2008, the memorial started as a simple stone inviting people to “pray for the soul” of an unidentified woman between the ages of 25-45 whose remains were found in the rest stop’s wooded area almost 20 years ago. 

With Porty’s help, the memorial has since transformed. 

"After the snow melted, (the memorial) was just really sad to look at," said Porty, who started maintaining the site in 2019. 

"Somebody had put out these little branches, sort of like a shield to protect the stone from the lawnmower and I think they meant well by putting out the sticks but they were white and looked like bones."

For Porty, finding the perpetrator is less important than keeping Jane Doe’s memory alive long enough for someone to identify her finally. 

He's even brought his metal detector into the woods where her body was found in the hopes he could find a bracelet or any kind of clue to who she was or how she got there. 

"Anyone can put something in the memorial, it's not my job or anything," said Porty. "But once a month it's no big deal to go up there and clean it up."

Having visited the memorial when it was first installed, Porty felt the urge to return shortly after the OPP renewed their call for public assistance in the hopes he could take a second look at a faded facial recreation photo that had previously been posted there. 

In his mind, the visible facial deformity the woman was believed to have from past injuries to her left cheek, nose and left eye socket would have made her easy to recognize if someone had run into her somewhere like a corner store the night she died. 

Instead, he found the memorial overgrown with weeds and grass and covered with pine cones and dead leaves. 

“It used to look nice and then it was like it was just forgotten," said Porty. "It just seemed like a waste." 

That day, Porty and his wife Donna started trying to pull the weeds out but it wasn't long before he returned with his weed whacker to clean the area up further. 

“So we’re trying to keep the grass trimmed and the pine cones brushed away and pull the weeds but it still looked really isolated,” said Porty. “So I decided to make a wooden frame…just to have a barrier from the grass.” 

Assembled with pressure-treated four-by-fours, Porty levelled and dug the frame in during one of his next visits while Donna planted perennials like periwinkles in the blank area surrounding the stone. 

When the flowers died out, he replaced them with white granite stones.

"People leave little things there too like little cherubs are sitting there now, polished stones, a little good luck charm ... and I know there's a cross someone put in," said Porty. "I usually get some flowers from the Rockwood flower store and put them in a little pot if I'm there and I know other people do it too, which is great."

Satisfied everything “looked really good," Porty continued this routine until he found a broken garden bench on the curb and had an idea. 

Taking it home, he replaced the bench wood and screws, painted the cast iron, drove it to the rest stop and chained it to a tree overlooking the memorial.  

"After tidying up the site, it can be a hot sweaty day but when I sit there a nice cool breeze will start to blow," said Porty. "It’s sort of eerie, it feels like maybe she's lingering there still or something." 

The breeze led him to create his own "positive thinking" message to Jane Doe on the bench which he signed with his initials, KP55. 

Encouraging visitors to Google Rockwood Jane Doe and learn about her story in the hopes someone has info that can help the cold case, the sign welcomes anyone to sit down, think about your life, where it's heading and where you want to go in the hopes "her end was not in vain as in effect; she has helped you." 

"She was someone's daughter, perhaps sister/aunt/wife, and maybe even someone's mother," reads the sign. "Surely they are wondering what became of her." 

While Jane Doe was found with no personal identification, the OPP has said her clothing was purchased in Montreal and they believe she was five-foot-six inches and 130 pounds with light brown hair. 

Considered suspicious and involving foul play, the OPP also believes she was wrapped in a sleeping bag and dragged a short distance into the wooded area approximately one month before the remains were discovered. 

However, OPP investigators said there is currently no new information to provide on the case although the investigation is still open and they would love to hear from anyone who has information related to it. 

Until that happens, Porty will continue the memorial's upkeep and plans to re-write his sign later this year. 

"I'm not upset the case might not be solved but I just try to do my little bit to take care of it," he said. "I think it's the cool breeze that kept me coming back." 

Photos that may help identify the woman are available to be viewed here, search for Case reference: 2005000299.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Ontario Provincial Police, your local Police service, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) / online.

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.


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About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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