Anita Louise Piteau was just 26 years old when someone beat, raped and slashed her throat in 1968; her body was left in a farm field in Huntington Beach, California and identified by authorities as Jane Doe, a description she retained for 52 years until genetic genealogy revealed her true name, according to a press release from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
In addition to Piteau, authorities also said that they were able to identify the suspect’s name using DNA from the scene.
“Due to the unwavering dedication and determination by so many law enforcement officers over five decades, this cold case has never been forgotten,” the District Attorney’s Office wrote.
Piteau Disappeared After Leaving Maine
According to local TV news station NBC-4, she left Maine for Southern California because she was “in search of a different life,” Huntington Beach Police Officer Angela Bennett said. Fox News reported that she left with friends in 1967.
Fox News reported that Piteau sent her mother a letter a month before she was killed, telling her mother that she was waitressing and planning to come home in May.
“It’s a letter they still had,” Bennett told NBC-4. “She was never heard from again, so they didn’t know what happened. But they always looked for her and thought she was still alive. They never gave up hope, just like our investigators.”
Piteau Was Discovered Using Familial DNA
Using DNA evidence, the district attorney’s office in Orange County, Calif., said it had identified a 1968 homicide victim as Anita Louise Piteau and the suspect as Johnny Chrisco https://t.co/0wrdDubsKO
— NYT National News (@NYTNational) July 25, 2020
The Orange County Tribune reported that Piteau’s body was found by three young boys who were playing in the field near Newland Avenue and Yorktown Street.
In 2011, Huntington Beach police officers collected DNA from her blouse and sent it to be processed. According to the press release, they also submitted her profile for a familial search in CODIS. However, in early 2020, authorities began working with world-famous genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick and identified her as Anita Louise Piteau, a 26-year-old from Augusta, Maine.
The press release also noted that Piteau had three siblings – two living sisters and a brother – and other extended family members who never gave up hope that she would be found.
Piteau had been buried at a Newport Beach cemetery in an unmarked grave for more than half a century, KTLA-5 reported. Since she has been identified, investigators took her remains back to Maine and also stayed to attend her memorial services.
The Suspect Was An Army Washout
According to the District Attorney Office’s press release, Huntington Beach police officers saved a cigarette butt left at the scene, and in 2010, sent it to be processed. A partial male DNA profile was obtained, matching the DNA from Piteau’s sexual assault kit, but no suspect was matched. Eventually, the Orange County DA used investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) to identify the DNA from a family tree.
From that tree, investigators discovered Jonny Chrisco, who was not an initial suspect but did have a checkered history. The press release revealed that he was in the Army for three years before he was discharged, “following a failed psychological exam that diagnosed him with having positive aggressive reaction which was defined as having a pattern of being quick to anger, easy to feel unjustly treated, chronically resentful, immature and impulsive.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer praised Huntington Beach police officers for “finding the person who robbed a young woman of a lifetime of memories”:
After more than five decades, advances in investigative genetic genealogy did what old-fashioned police work could not: give Jane Doe a name and identify her killer. It is technology and the determination of the Huntington Beach Police Department and prosecutors, forensic scientists and investigators from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office that allowed Anita’s family to finally bring her home and lay her to rest. The death of Johnny Chrisco prevented the full imposition of justice for Anita’s murder, and that is a wound that will never heal, but it was the dogged pursuit of justice that ensured that it was not if, but when, we would finally be able to tell Anita’s loved ones who killed her.