The Killing of Anita Piteau
This past year, the oldest cold murder case in populous Orange County, California was finally solved. A unique aspect of this murder was that the identities of both the victim and killer were unknown for over 52 years.
The case traces its roots back to March 1968 in Huntington Beach, when three kids found the dead body of a young woman in a drainage ditch. The woman had no identification. And no one in the area had reported a missing person. The only pieces of evidence left at the scene were the clothes on the victim’s back and a cigarette that was located near her body.
Since no one stepped forward to identify her, the victim was laid to rest in a local unmarked grave.
Then, for the next five decades, the police continued their investigation, but had no leads until a break in 2001. At that time, law enforcement conducted a DNA analysis on the victim’s clothes. The police now had a genetic indicator that would later help them identify the woman.
But, despite this break, the case continued to be unsolved until another break occurred in 2010 after a partial DNA profile of the killer was obtained from the cigarette.
The DNA gathered from the cigarette matched DNA found in the victim’s rape kit. Then, almost a decade later police used investigative genetic genealogy to create the murderer’s family tree. As a result of the family tree, law enforcement found their killer – Johnny Chrisco, who died of cancer in 2015.
While the pursuit of the killer’s identity was ongoing, investigators were also busy trying to figure out the name of the victim. Police had entered DNA obtained from blood on the victim’s blouse into the national Combined DNA Index System and registered her fingerprints with both California and federal databases.
Eventually, investigators were able to cobble together a family tree, and with the help of a renowned genealogist, they were able to identify the victim as Anita Louise Piteau.
Anita’s remains were returned to the siblings that survived her, and a memorial service was held for Anita in Maine, her home state.
Justice for Baby Michael
In the dead of winter in 1999, a soldier was driving along a desolate North Carolina road when he saw a trash bag on the shoulder. Something about the bag did not sit right with him. So, he pulled over and inspected it. What the soldier discovered was utter horror; inside the bag was the dead body of a newborn baby.
The baby died of blunt force trauma, still had his umbilical cord attached and was less than 24 hours old. Because the baby presumably died without a name, the local Sheriff decided to call the child “Baby Michael” after the Patron Saint of Law Enforcement.
The case went unsolved for many years, despite law enforcement’s never-ending pursuit to find the killer. When it seemed like all hope was lost, detectives received the proper funding and the green light from their superiors to send Baby Michael’s DNA to a forensic genealogist.
Combining DNA analysis with traditional genealogy, the analysts were able to find familial DNA matches for Baby Michael. Utilizing this information, detectives investigated the family members in order to ascertain how these people were related to Baby Michael.
After months of conducting this type of investigation, law enforcement believed they found the mother – Deborah Riddle O’Conner. Once confronted, O’Conner admitted to killing her son, Baby Michael.
It took almost 21 years to achieve justice for Baby Michael, but it was finally attained when O’Conner was charged with murder and was granted no bail.
Mary Scott’s Murder Finally Solved
On a dark November night in 1969, two San Diego detectives went to the home of Mary Scott to let her family that know that Mary had been murdered. Rosalie Sanz was the younger sister of 23-year old Mary, and she has vivid memories of that horrible evening. Rosalie’s nightmare seemed to never end, as her big sister’s murder went unsolved for almost half a century.
Mary was a divorced single mother, who worked as a cocktail waitress and exotic dancer. One evening when Mary did not show up for work at the club, a colleague went to her apartment and found her dead. Mary had been raped, and the apartment was in disarray with the chain to the front door completely snapped in half.
Investigators pursued the case for years, but they were unable to find a single suspect. The case went cold, and eventually everyone in Mary’s life died from old age and natural causes. The only one who still remembers Mary is her sister Rosalie. One of Mary’s daughters is still alive but has been unreachable.
Rosalie had been reading about breakthroughs in DNA tech. So, she contacted an old friend, who had retired from the San Diego Police Department. The friend called in a few favors, and as a result, the San Diego Cold Case Unit and the District Attorney re-opened the case – 50 years after the murder.
Leveraging the recent success with genetic genealogy, detectives hired a national company that specializes in such work. Within a few months, the police found their suspect, John Jeffrey Sipos, a 75-year old who was currently living in Pennsylvania.
The killer was arrested and is being extradited to California for prosecution. Rosalie is grateful that justice for her sister was finally obtained.
The resolution of these cold cases through the use of genetic genealogy is an amazing achievement for both science and law enforcement. No longer can killers use the passage of time as a way to avoid justice. Are there any cold cases in your neck of the woods that have been resolved through the use of genetic genealogy?
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