The 30-Year-Long Mystery of “Tent Girl”

Her body was discovered in 1968, yet her identity would remain a mystery for decades to come.

In May 1968, a man by the name of Wilbur Riddle was traveling along the U.S. Route 25 in the backwoods of Kentucky. Riddle was a well-digger and he was collecting glass telephone pole insulators at the time. During his search, he stumbled upon a bundled up green tarp. Unsure of its contents, he gently nudged the tarp with his foot which then sent it rolling down an embankment. This caused the tarp to unravel and reveal the contents inside.

It was shaped like a human body.

In panic, Riddle went to the nearest gas station and called the sheriff to inform him of his discovery. A few minutes later, the sheriff arrived and he and Riddle went back to the scene of the discovery. The sheriff started to cut away at the bundle and found a horrifying sight. It was the decomposed body of a young girl, frozen stiff in the position of someone who was trying to escape.

The girl appeared to be a white teenager with short brown hair, and aside from her decay, her appearance was unremarkable.

As soon as the media got hold of the story, the unidentified female was given the name of “Tent Girl” The local police had issued a public appeal for any family members with a missing relative, but unfortunately no one came forward to identify the girl. Aside from a few false leads. The girl was laid to rest in Georgetown Cemetery in 1971 with the sad epitaph…

 

TENT GIRL

FOUND MAY 17 1968

ON U.S. HIGHWAY 25.N.

DIED ABOUT APRIL 26-MAY 3, 1968

AGE ABOUT 16-19 YEARS

HEIGHT 5 FEET 1 INCH

WEIGHT 110 TO 115 LBS.

REDDISH BROWN HAIR

UNIDENTIFIED

 

Finding the Truth About Tent Girl

Several years later, a man by the name of Todd Matthews started dating Wilbur Riddle’s daughter Lori. After hearing about the incredible unsolved mystery, Todd became somewhat obsessed with the case and started to do a little research of his own. He traveled to the grave site of Tent Girl’s body and also visited several newspapers in search of any small clue that may push him in the right direction. Along with the press coverage, Todd was also interested in finding reports of a missing person from the same time period.

The Invention of the Internet Helped Matthew’s with his Case

When Matthews first began his search, the Internet did not exist. And so his research was limited to making phone calls and doing countless interviews. For ten years he put together small pieces of information from various sources but he was never able to come up with anything that was concrete. Finally, once the age of the Internet came into play, Todd was able to conduct his research in a brand new world without any distance barriers.

He found a community of people online who shared an interest in solving cold cases. Todd saw a post one evening in 1998 that made him take a second look. It was from a woman in Arkansas named Rosemary Westbrook. She was looking for any information regarding her older sister who had gone missing after being seen in Lexington, Kentucky. The description that Rosemary gave about her sister matched the appearance that was etched onto Tent Girl’s tombstone.

In her post, Rosemary wrote…

My sister Barbara has been missing from our family since the latter part of 1967. She has brown hair, brown eyes, is about five feet two inches tall and was last seen in the Lexington, Kentucky area. If you have any information, please contact me at the address posted.

Todd got in touch with the woman and put her in contact with the forensic medical examiner in Kentucky. On March 2, 1998, the Tent Girl’s body was exhumed from its grave and sent to a lab in Frankfurt, Kentucky. The DNA testing that was performed using a cheek swab from Rosemary and pulp from one of the corpses teeth proved that the unidentified Tent Girl was Rosemary’s long lost sister, 24-year old Barbara Ann Hackmann-Taylor.

Barbara’s Story

Barbara had moved to Kentucky without her family’s knowledge. At the time of her disappearance, she was working at a restaurant and she had a young daughter. She was also married to a carnival worker by the name of George Earl Taylor. He claimed that he hadn’t seen her in years and that she had left him for another man. When Barbara’s body was identified, George Taylor was already dead, he had died of cancer in October 1987. He was never officially implicated in Barbara’s murder, but Todd believes that he was the person responsible.

A second grave marker has been placed beneath the original stone in Georgetown Cemetery. It displays Barbara’s full birth name (excluding her married name), her nickname and the approximate death date.

Todd’s New Mission

Solving the mystery of the Tent Girl’s identity gave Todd Matthews a sense of purpose. He joined the Doe Network which is a bulletin board of missing person cases, and has helped to build it to a national database. He also helped in the formation of EDAN (Everyone Deserves a Name) which is an organization that is made up of volunteers who donate sketches and facial Reconstructions that aide in the identification of bodies.