Taylor Hundley was around 10 years old when she first dreamed of being an investigator.
It was 1998, and Hundley was living in Waycross, Georgia. There, in the small Ware County city where she spent most of her childhood, she vividly remembers watching the tragic and chilling story of Maddie Clifton.
Clifton was 8 years old — around the same age as Hundley at the time — when she was murdered by her teenage neighbor in Jacksonville. The community searched for her for a week before she was found under her killer’s bed.
Hundley saw the media coverage unfold on TV, and Clifton’s story has stuck with her ever since.
“I saw how law enforcement, you know, did their job, even from a young age. And so, it kind of pushed me toward law enforcement,” Hundley told News4JAX.
Hundley didn’t know it then, but Clifton’s murder would change her life and ultimately lead her to help make a breakthrough in one of the most notorious unsolved cases in her hometown — a case involving a little girl who died the same year Hundley was born.
Baby Jane Doe finds her name
Hundley stood at a news conference last week that was nearly 35 years in the making. She was in the back along with other GBI investigators as her boss announced a breakthrough in an infamous cold case.
The investigation started in 1988, just before Christmas when a group of road workers made a shocking discovery as they combed through an illegal dump site that was close to the bridge they were helping to build. There — inside of an old TV cabinet, wrapped up in a blanket inside of a duffel bag tucked inside of a trunk that had been encased in concrete — was the body of a 5-year-old girl.
One of the first investigators to show up at the girl’s makeshift tomb on that rural dirt road was Carl James, who is now the sheriff of Ware County.
“Upon my arrival, I was really not prepared for what we were about to find,” James said.
From that time forward, James said, hundreds of leads and tips were investigated and followed up by the sheriff’s office and the GBI. But none were able to help identify the young Black girl, so she became known by the Waycross community as “Baby Jane Doe.”
It wasn’t until 2019, the same year that Hundley joined the GBI after leaving the Waycross Police Department, that the case started to find new life. That year, GBI started looking into genetic genealogy, where investigators put a DNA profile into a public database to find relatives. That led the investigation down a new path and finally in 2023, Baby Jane Doe got her name back — her name was Kenyatta Odom, once known affectionately as “Keke.”
Not only did Odom have her name back, but GBI said those who were accused of her gruesome death were now in jail. Odom’s mother and her mother’s former boyfriend now stand accused of her murder.
GBI Special Agent in Charge Jason Seacrist thanked a long list of people and agencies for their help in the three-decade investigation during the news conference on Nov. 14, but he made a point to call Hundley front-and-center.
Almost sheepishly, Hundley stood next to Seacrist as he praised her work.
“I have never seen anyone work so hard to be sure to try to find an answer for a cold case as what I’ve seen Agent Hundley,” Seacrist said. “Her work is commendable and most of the time it’s unseen. But it’s been her dedication along with the support of these other agencies, other investigators that got us to where we are today.”
The road to Kenyatta
Hundley moved to Waycross with her family when she was 5 years old. She became fully ingrained in the tight-knit community during her formative years. And like most people living in Waycross, she eventually learned about the story of Baby Jane Doe.
“I think I was a teenager, maybe early college when I learned of her story. And so, I was very interested then. I never imagined that I would actually be working on the case,” Hundley said.
But it wasn’t by chance. Hundley asked to be assigned to the cold case when she showed up to work at the GBI Region 4 office in Douglas.
“I was like, ‘If there’s any case, cold case that I have, that I would like solved before I retire, which is many years from now, this was the case,’” Hundley said. “She’s just been a part of our community for so long. I think it was a no-brainer, so to speak, to work this case and help to bring maybe some justice for Kenyatta.”
Over the next four years, Hundley chipped away at the case when she had time. The work included long days that sometimes took her far away from Ware County.
“All victims are important, but when you have a little girl who just still doesn’t have a name almost 35 years later, giving up the time and having to set aside some things, you just don’t really think about it,” she said.
Hundley said it made it easier knowing she had the help of a whole team of GBI investigators and organizations who all wanted the case solved, but at times the case consumed her. She said that can be a good thing, sometimes.
Hundley said she visited the area on Duncan Bridge Road multiple times to see for herself where Odom was found. It was important for her to visit occasionally, not to look for new evidence, but to stay invested in the case.
For new evidence, Hundley looked far past Ware County, all the way to Texas. That’s where GBI made use of an emerging DNA technology used by the University of North Texas that has helped solve high-profile cold cases like those of “The Golden State Killer” and the “Grim Sleeper.”
Big breaks: DNA and a phone call
Last year, on the 34th anniversary of Odom’s discovery, Seacrist said the GBI had been utilizing advanced familial DNA testing for years in hopes of finding the young victim’s relatives.
GBI was eventually able to confirm a family connection in Albany, Georgia.
It was a big break.
Now investigators knew Odom likely died in the Albany area, about two hours west of Waycross down U.S. Highway 82. Investigators always thought there was a possible Albany connection because an Albany Herald newspaper was found near her body, but the DNA provided proof.
However, investigators were still unable to confirm her identity.
“The DNA technology does not necessarily take us directly to a parent. A lot of times it can be second, third, fourth cousins, and sometimes more far removed than that,” Seacrist said. “Then we have to go through and start trying to interview and try to make a determination of which direction to go in.”
That all changed when a phone call pointed them in a new direction.
GBI said a month after News4JAX aired a story in December 2022, the agency got a call that investigators had been waiting for.
The woman said knew there had been a child that had gone missing around 1988 and that her mother said that the child had gone to live with her father. But she never believed that story.
Hundley and the GBI now had a new road to follow.
Seeing Keke’s face for the first time
It was in the middle of an interview earlier this year that Hundley first saw the face of Baby Jane Doe. No longer was she a nameless, faceless body in a box, she was real, an innocent young girl wearing red and staring with sad, dark brown eyes directly into a camera. She was Kenyatta Odom.
Hundley became emotional.
“It almost makes you want to cry, but, you know, you have to maintain your composure,” Hundley said.
But the biggest moment for Hundley came when she put the photo next to the composite image created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children of what Odom would have looked like at an older age.
“Then it was like, ‘OK, yeah, this is, this is her,’” Hundley said. “At the press conference, when that picture was flipped over, we heard a lot of people gasp and so that’s kind of how it was just uncanny, how close it was.”
Searching for ‘true justice’
Even though the two people responsible for Odom’s brutal death are in jail, Hundley knows there is still work to be done.
“It doesn’t always stop when there’s an arrest because an arrest is one part of it,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to court and getting the conviction because that’s the true justice for Kenyatta is when those responsible for her death are brought before a panel of their peers, 12 people, and all this evidence is laid before them, and they make the decision.”
And there are still lingering questions.
GBI said it is still trying to locate Odom’s father. His identity has been a secret over the years, one of the many surrounding the case. Hundley hopes to have those answers before the case goes to trial.
It’s not clear when those accused in Odom’s death will go before a jury, but Hundley has been patient through this case, even as some have wondered why the case took so long to solve.
“And this is a question that has been asked, ‘Could something have been done quicker?’ We don’t know, but at the end of the day, it’s what we need to present in court, and you don’t want to rush those things,” Hundley said. “Because in cases like this, you don’t want to be sloppy. It’s just so important. You have to keep focus on the victim.”
Hundley tries to take a personal interest in every case and always focuses on the victim. In the case of Baby Jane Doe, it was Kenyatta Odom, but it started 26 years ago with Maddie Clifton.