Skip to main content

Lily Lee’s work continues to commemorate unknown murder victims


art by Lily Lee
The Shroud of Bitter Creek Betty, by Lily Lee. Photo by Carrie Quinney.

The Elko Free Daily Press featured artist and Boise State Associate Professor Lily Lee in a recent article, Artist memorializes Elko County Jane Does.

Lee traveled to Nevada to place four engraved bricks at sites where unidentified female murder victims were found. The project grew out of a related body of work, The Great Basin Murders, referencing an unsolved series of murders of women that took place in the West from the 1980s to the 1990s. Lee wove funeral shrouds to commemorate the victims, including three unknown victims from the 1970s. A current exhibition at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko features photographs of Lee’s shrouds placed at sites where bodies lay, or in landscapes that resemble those places. Carrie Quinney (MFA, Boise State), was the photographer.

The process of placing the bricks came about as an alternative to a traditional opening reception or artist talk for the museum exhibition. Both were impossible because of the pandemic. “I still wanted to do another activity to complement the exhibition, engage the community, and extend the scope of the body of work,” Lee said.

After placing the bricks at each site, Lee said she “would take a moment to look around at the landscape and the sky and just take in the location where each woman had been found. That moment was very powerful. I wondered what their last thoughts had been and of course who they were and how they had ended up there.”

Lee found support from Elko residents for her project, including those who gave her access to their property to place bricks. In one case, Lee worked with the son of a rancher who found a victim’s body to place a brick at the exact spot where her body was found. She also did research and networked in Nevada, including with the detectives who are still working to solve the murder cases, including those that are more than 40 years old.

In addition to teaching and her own art practice, Lee is the area director for The Doe Network: International Center for Missing and Unidentified Persons, a nonprofit group of volunteers who work with law enforcement to match missing persons cases with John and Jane Doe cases from across the country. Lee received a grant from the Alexa Rose Foundation to support the commemorative brick project.

Read more about Lee’s work on the Boise State News website.

Listen to and watch recent local news stories about Lee’s work on Boise State Public Radio and KIVI.