Woman found dead along I-35 finally identified after 40 years

The release of new sketches of "Orange Socks" ultimately provided the lead investigators needed to identify the victim. (Williamson County Sheriff's Office)
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GEORGETOWN, Texas (KWTX) Williamson County authorities announced Wednesday they’ve identified a woman whose body was found 40 years ago in a culvert along Interstate 35, nude except for a pair of orange socks as Debra Jackson, 23, of Abilene.

The so-called “Orange Socks” case had haunted Williamson County investigators since the woman's body was found on Oct. 31, 1979.

Jackson left her home in Abilene in 1977, had a job in 1978 in Amarillo at a Ramada Inn that’s now a Camelot Inn, and later worked at an assisted living center in Azle, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Her family had never reported her missing, he said.

Contributions to her Social Security account ended in 1979 before her body was found.

Repeated DNA testing produced no results, but after the sheriff’s office released new sketches of the victim in June, a woman who saw them called and said she thought “Orange Socks” was her sister.

Additional DNA testing along with comparisons of physical characteristics and family photos with autopsy photos confirmed Jackson’s identity.

Matchbooks, a silver ring and a bloodstained towel

Investigators determined that her body had been dragged from a vehicle, thrown over a guardrail and into the culvert below.

The cause of death was strangulation and she died "just hours before the body was found,” the medical examiner determined.

There were several bruises on her body, on her neck from the strangulation and on her torso from being thrown over the guardrail, the autopsy showed.

The woman's legs were unshaven, she had very long toenails, her fingernails were painted and a hairline scar was observed beneath the chin; her body showed an extremely excessive number of insect bites.

Post-mortem X-rays showed, in spite of her significant injuries, she had never suffered a broken a bone, and it showed she suffered from salpingitis, a side effect of previously contracting gonorrhea, the examiner's report showed.

The victim had 10-inch-long brown hair with a reddish tint and hazel eyes.

She was missing two teeth, but in spite of showing no signs of dental care, her teeth were well-maintained, and she wore a silver ring with an abalone or mother-of-pearl setting.

Police recovered two matchbooks at the scene, one of which came from a hotel from Henrietta, Okla., which supported investigators' theory she was a hitchhiker or drifter.

Also from the scene police recovered a blood-stained towel which they theorized had been used as a sanitary napkin, perhaps because the victim was attempting to control her menstruation without having to buy tampons.

Suspect confessed, but later recanted

Although they didn’t know the victim’s name, authorities charged and eventually convicted Henry Lee Lucas, a nationally famous self-proclaimed serial killer who confessed to her murder in 1984.

But Lucas later recanted his confession after then McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell discredited a list of dozens of confessions Lucas had given as having been prompted by investigators with the Texas Rangers.

"He recanted on almost all his confessions after the trial," recalled retired Williamson County District Attorney Ed Walsh, who tried Lucas and won a guilty verdict in 1984.

"Nobody knows how many people he killed," Walsh said in a May 2018 report aired on Fox7 in Austin.

"He certainly didn't kill everybody he claimed to have killed."

Although Lucas confessed to her murder, police had no physical evidence that he'd actually been involved in the killing, the sexual assault or disposition of the body.

In an interview with Texas Rangers at the time, Lucas said he picked the victim up in Oklahoma, had sex with her, and when he asked for sex again, she refused and tried to get out of the car.

In anger, police said, he killed her, raped her corpse, put her in the car trunk and drove to Georgetown, where he disposed of her body.

Lucas, after trial presided over by now U.S. Congressman John Carter, then the 26th District Court judge in Williamson County, was sentenced to death and sent off to Huntsville.

Then Gov. George W. Bush later commuted the death sentence in the Orange Socks case after he determined there wasn't ample enough evidence to execute Lucas.

(Paul J. Gately contributed to this story)