- Michael Marks
- Not much is known about Virgil Dorie. That's not even her real name. She has been at Haven For Hope homeless shelter for five years.
Virgil Dorie carries almost everything she needs with her.
Dorie is a round-faced woman who looks to be in her late 60s or early 70s. She collects her long frizzy hair under a cloth, which she tucks behind her head.
Her clothes are baggy, a rumpled green polo shirt layered underneath a blue windbreaker.
Her frequent smiles reveal just a few precious teeth spread across her gums.
Dorie uses a walker, which is laden with plastic bags full of all sorts of supplies: crayons and coloring books, small boxes of Raisin Bran, powdered creamer, Mardi Gras beads.
What they don't contain, and what she truly needs, are any pieces of personal identification. Dorie doesn't have a driver's license, a birth certificate, a passport — anything that could prove who she is or where she came from.
Her story is a mystery — including to herself. Even her real name remains an enigma.
Dorie has a mental illness that has wiped out much of her long-term memory. Coloring helps her focus and retain some lucidity, but she doesn't remember most of the key facts about her life, making it almost impossible to figure out who she is.
That means that for Dorie, homeless for decades and living at Haven for Hope – San Antonio's 37-acre one-stop-shop shelter – the social safety net is riddled with gaping holes. Since she can't prove her identity, she's unable to tap into valuable resources available to others in need like her.
Dorie's caseworker, Laurie Ashby, wants to improve her quality of life and help her move out of the shelter, but that's nearly impossible without the proper documentation.
"No one deserves to live in a homeless shelter their entire life," Ashby said to the San Antonio Current. "Without ID, I can't get her Social Security, Medicare, insurance, housing, anything."
Many Rumors, Few Facts
A few key points of Dorie's story seem well-defined: She was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City at a young age. At some point, probably as an adult, she moved to San Antonio. She has several children, though the exact number is unknown.
In Ashby's office, Dorie ticked off the names of five children on her fingers, two sons and three daughters. But sometimes she says she only has two or three. No records of any of them have been located.
"I miss them, I haven't seen them," she said, her voice trailing off in a high-toned drawl.
"Virgil Dorie" is almost certainly not her actual name. Ashby thinks it's probably "Virginia Torres" or "Maria Torres," both of which Dorie has called herself.
Ashby hypothesizes that the name came from Dorie saying "Virginia Torres," but her speech, which is muffled or slurred at times, made it sound like "Virgil Dorie" to others and the name stuck.
Dorie has lived at Haven since 2010, after staying at the SAMM Shelter on Commerce Street until it closed.
Dorie said she likes Haven for the most part, with the exception of sharing a space with so many people. She's one of the shelter's longest-lasting clients.
"This is a nice place," she said. "But they have a lot of people in that room."
It's unclear when Dorie got into town. But she was often seen in and around downtown from the late 1980s through the 1990s.
People describe her as a clearly mentally unsettled, gracious but sometimes unpredictable. She'd push an HEB shopping cart around most anywhere she went, stopping by churches and convenience stores, sleeping under carports or under trees. Rumors abound about who she is, and it seems that everyone who has come across Dorie has a different name for her.
John De La Cruz remembered seeing Dorie around his West Side neighborhood as a child. He and his friends would call her la bruja, sometimes fleeing when they saw her.
David Ellis, a former San Antonio police officer, first saw Dorie on his regular beat on the East Side in 1985, typically at the intersection of New Braunfels Avenue and Houston Street. But he'd also see her on the West Side some weekends when he moonlighted for a funeral home escorting processions to the cemetery.
Ellis heard a rumor that Dorie used to work at an upscale salon in Alamo Heights, but he couldn't ever substantiate it. Ellis called her "Ruby," a name he heard other cops use.
Margaret Sandoval, 58, knew Dorie as "Minnie." Sandoval worked near downtown in the 1990s and she would see Dorie near where the San Antonio Police Department headquarters now sits on South Santa Rosa Avenue.
Sandoval said she couldn't remember having a conversation with Dorie, but she would always smile and say hello.
"She was there everyday," Sandoval recalled. "There were other people who would take her food and she would smile and say 'Thank you.' She's such a sweet person."
Occasionally, Sandoval would buy her a taco or tea from Bill Miller's. One winter, she brought Dorie a coat and some shoes.
Sandoval said that Dorie's cart once contained papers with names and addresses of Dorie's family in New York. Sandoval tried to contact Dorie's daughter but had no luck. Those papers, like other clues to Dorie's real identity, have vanished.
- Michael Marks
- Laurie Ashby, a caseworker at Haven, has ran into dead ends in her search for Dorie's identity.
With clues from the community leading to dead ends, Ashby turned to investigators from Kelmar Global, a San Antonio-based private investigation company, to find leads on Dorie's identity or family.
Marie Patton, a senior investigator at Kelmar, worked on Dorie's case off and on for several months but didn't unearth anything new.
The lack of leads was challenging. Patton started by looking for people with the name "Dorie Miller," but found no matches. She then looked for connections through the last name "Torres," in New York City, but found too many to parse through.
"I did a lot of searching online to find some kind of connection, something," Patton said. "It was virtually impossible."
The case was so opaque that Patton suggested that Dorie might know more than she let on so that she could continue to stay at Haven.
"We were going down rabbit holes that weren't doing us any good. I said 'I can't help any longer because we're not getting the truth,'" Patton said. "She was hiding on purpose and not telling them the truth on purpose so they would continue to take care of her."
Staff at Haven didn't reach the same conclusion. They said that her social skills and short-term memory have made great strides since coming to the shelter. She used to be standoffish, bordering on bitter but now she's opened up, they insisted.
Ashby said that in the past, she wasn't sure if Dorie could remember her name. Now she can remember appointments set days before. She's quick with a hello to staff and residents alike.
"Everyone knows her. She's very loved here. People take care of her, they protect her," Ashby said. "In some ways she's become a fixture here."
But the goal is still for Dorie to become as self-sufficient as possible. Some days that goal seems more attainable than others.
As Dorie scooted down Frio Street with her walker, bags dangling all around he and coloring books at the ready, she seemed quite independent.