Today’s case in the Bundy series is the first in which we have an actual confession. We don’t have to speculate whether Bundy was involved in the disappearance here, but we still have so many blanks to fill. If we take Bundy at his word, we know he killed Donna Manson – but no sign of her has been found as of the writing of this post. Not her belongings. Not her remains. Nothing. So where is Donna Manson, and can we take Bundy’s confession at face value? Let’s explore.
Who Was Donna?
We know a bit more about Donna Manson than the suspected victims we’ve covered so far, but it’s still not a lot, unfortunately. Donna Manson was born on June 9, 1954 in Olympia, Washington. Her parents were Marie and Lyle Manson. She was an only child. Donna’s parents described her as being somewhat shy and hesitant to open up to people. She also tended to be somewhat anxious and have bouts of depression. However, Donna worked hard to overcome these things – she earned good grades in school, and was working towards an English degree. In 1974, Donna was 19 years old and a student at Evergreen University. She stood at 5’ tall and weighed around 100 lbs. She had brown hair and blue eyes.
Donna was last seen on March 12, 1974 at around 7 PM by her roommate. She’d mentioned that she was going to see a jazz concert on campus that evening. Another student allegedly saw Donna near the campus’s library, but this has not been corroborated. Donna was last seen wearing a red, orange, and green striped top with green pants and a long, fuzzy black coat. She was also wearing a brown agate ring and a Bulova Caravell watch at the time.
Donna was not reported missing for six days, which meant leads were already cold by the time investigating officers began the search. Donna was not presumed to have left of her own accord, as all of her personal belongings were left behind. Searches of the area were conducted by law enforcement, but nothing came of any searches.
On August 29, 1978 two fishermen found a skull while walking along a road that sat at the foothills of Mount Rainier. When police were called, an in-depth search of the area commenced. More human bones were found in the surrounding area, along with human hair and a shirt. The shirt is said to have been multicolored, and contemporary news reports state it was similar to the one that Donna was last seen wearing. Investigators had dental x-rays made of the skull in order to compare it with records of missing persons. A forensic dentist compared dental records from eight missing persons to the dental records from the found skull. Of those eight comparisons, seven were ruled out. The only possible match was Donna Manson. However, the police department that collected the remains ended up “losing” the remains and x-rays before they could be definitively matched to Donna.
Edit: I would like to pop back in here to add that it is next to impossible that the Pierce County Jane Doe was Donna. While the dental record comparisons could not rule Donna out, the reconstructed remains were measured to be around 5’7 in height, while Donna only stood at 5′. Unless there was a mix of skeletal remains found and the skull retrieved did not belong to the rest of the skeletal remains found in the area, I do not see a way that the skull could have belonged to Donna, unfortunately.
The Bundy Connection
There are two halves to the Bundy connection in this case. First, there were reports of a man driving a beige or yellow Volkswagen around the Evergreen University campus prior to Donna’s disappearance – which is a description that matched Bundy’s car perfectly. Bundy infamously modified the car to remove the inner handle on the passenger door to prevent his victims from escaping once he got them inside. Further linking these sightings to both Bundy and Donna, apparently Donna had begun telling her friends that she’d met a man with a broken arm on campus. This is a well-known ruse that Bundy used to lull his victims into a false sense of security – he’d pretend to be injured or in distress to get their guards down. It seems like a no-brainer that this yellow Volkswagen was indeed Bundy, and he used the broken-arm ruse to get Donna to assist him with something in order to trap her in the car.
The second half of the Bundy connection here comes from the killer’s own mouth. While on death row, Bundy confessed to kidnapping Donna from the Evergreen campus and killing her. He didn’t say how he killed her, but he did say that he was responsible. His story kept changing, however, when it came to where he put Donna’s remains. At first, he claimed she was in “the mountains,” though I can’t find any information regarding further specifics. Then, his story shifted to her being somewhere in the Cascades. Then he claimed her remains were on Taylor Mountain. And, at some point, he also claimed to have burned her skull down to ashes in a fireplace, which I call bullshit on. Based on my (admittedly very cursory) research, wood burning fireplaces burn up to about 1000 degrees. Cremation requires 1400 to 1800 degrees. So no, that did not happen, not in the way Bundy claimed, at least.
I don’t know if it’s possible that anyone out there would have any information, since it seems like Donna is on one of those mountains or has already been found and is unidentified, but I always have to include it. Just in case. So, if you or anyone you know has any information, please contact the proper authorities. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office may be reached at 360-786-5229 in reference to case number 7438683.