ANTELOPE VALLEY – It’s been 43 years since the decomposed body of a woman was found in a red homemade coffin hidden in the desert. Still, detectives are no closer to figuring out who the woman was or how she got there.
They’re asking for your help in solving the murder of Jane Doe #40.
“What we’re doing is asking the public if they have any recollection at all of anyone matching this description,” said Sheriff’s Cold Case Unit Sgt. Richard Longshore, who was in town Thursday to share details of the case.
On Dec. 8, 1968, a group of hunters came across a coffin about 15 feet from the roadway, on 188th Street East, just south of Fort Tejon Road.
“It was behind a tree or bush and could not be seen from the roadway,” Longshore said. “It was covered with dead limbs of trees and rocks and some dirt.”
Longshore said the hunters contacted the Lancaster Station. Deputies pried open the coffin and found the decomposed body of a white female, between 35-50 years old, with short auburn hair that was turning gray. Her hair was in bobby pins as if she was ready to go to sleep, and she was wearing a two-piece satin pink pajama set, with a red and white checkered robe.
The woman had been shot.
“The cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound through and through, so there is no ballistics,” Longshore said. “That means it went in one portion of the body and exited the other.”
Longshore said the women’s appearance coupled with how the coffin was constructed led detectives to believe it was a domestic murder.
The well-constructed plywood coffin had been glued shut, then nailed shut, and then painted a reddish-brown color. Inside the coffin, the woman was placed within two multicolored quilts, and her head was laid on a brocade pillow.
“Someone used a lot of care in putting her in that coffin,” Longshore said. “One could speculate that the way that the coffin was constructed that he was concerned about animal intervention.”
The medical examiner estimates the woman had been dead between three months to a year before she was discovered.
She had several gold fillings in her teeth, had undergone a hysterectomy, and had given birth at least once during her lifetime, according to the medical examiner.
Longshore said the body was too decomposed for a fingerprint comparison.
“There are ways of hydrating fingerprints, they tried that,” Longshore said. “However, because of the nature of the decomposition, there was an insufficient ridge count available from the fingerprints to make a determination.”
Longshore said detectives also looked to the woman’s clothing for clues. Her robe had a label on it that said “Viyella woven in Great Britain” and “Designed by Sadie Shaw.”
“I’ve done a lot of research and gone through textile associations and vintage clothing warehouses, and it’s fairly common place apparently in the UK,” Longshore said. “We don’t know that it was ever exported to the United States for sale.”
Longshore said there were no reports of missing people during the time of the woman’s discovery. He said investigators sent letters to Las Vegas, Reno and several other places in hopes of finding missing females who matched the woman’s description, but to no avail.
Today, only one of the hunters that discovered Jane Doe #40 is still alive.
The youngest member was 19-years-old at the time, and is now 62.
“So you can see with the passage of time, not only do the memories fade, but people fade away as well,” Longshore said.
He said the person responsible for the murder is more than likely deceased.
“But she still has family members or still has neighbors that remember her,” Longshore said. “We owe it to them to give them an answer.”
Longshore said the department never closes cold cases, and he will continue investigating the death of Jane Doe #40 in hopes of a resolution. He is hoping the public can help.
If you or anyone you know has information regarding this case, contact Sgt. Richard Longshore at 323-890-5500. If you would like to provide information anonymously, call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477.