This month’s Doe brings us back to California. The Ventura County Doe was found stabbed and strangled to death in the summer of 1980. We know who their killer was, so why is this pregnant murder victim still without a name? Let’s explore.
On July 19, 1980, an employee of Westlake High School in Westlake, CA, discovered a body at the edge of the school’s parking lot. She had been strangled and stabbed within the previous 12 hours. A trail of blood showed that she had been dragged across the parking lot. A lack of any other blood at the scene suggested that the Doe had been murdered at a separate location and dumped in the parking lot after.
The Doe stood between 5’1 and 5’3 and weighed between 110 lbs to 115 lbs at the time of their death. They had a medium complexion and was thought to be of Hispanic, Indigenous, or Asian heritage – more on this later. Investigators estimated their age to be between 15 and 30 years old. They had brown eyes and black hair, with bleached blonde tips. The Doe was wearing a white shirt, red corduroy pants, a black bra, and white underwear. Black heeled sandals with open toes were found nearby. They were wearing multiple coats of mascara and their fingernails were painted red. The only identifying marks described were two small vaccination scars, scars on the left knee, and their lower front teeth were rotated. The Doe was also five months pregnant.
Upon autopsy, it was determined that Ventura Doe’s son was well-nourished and developing appropriately, hinting that they were not likely experiencing food insecurity to an extreme level. It was also discovered that this Doe had an Episiotomy scar, presumably from a previous birth. Leads led the investigators to believe that she may have been from Kern County or somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. But that was really all that the original investigation seemed to consist of. I’m unable to find further movement until the 2010s.
In 2012, investigators took DNA found on their clothing and scrapings from their fingernails and tested the samples with the advanced DNA technology that we have today. The results were matched to a man named Wilson Chouest. Chouest was linked to another Jane Doe found not far from Ventura County as well. The Kern County Jane Doe was found in an almond orchard on July 15, 1980. She, like the Ventura Doe, had been stabbed to death at a different location. In April of 2021, the Kern County Doe was identified as Shirley Ann Soosay through genetic genealogy. Despite the fact that the Ventura Doe’s killer had been identified, their identity remained unknown.
The DNA Doe Project took on the case in 2018, hoping to further use the rapidly-evolving science of genetic genealogy to find out their identity. Through their investigation, they believe to have found a third-cousin as of 2020. The Doe’s DNA profile showed that she was 60% Indigenous American and likely had Hispanic heritage on her father’s side of the family tree. Through the extensive genetic genealogical process, several geographic areas and surnames of relatives of the Doe:
- Southern Texas (between San Antonio and Brownsville) and Northeastern Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon) with the names “Bermea,” “Cantu,” ”Casares”, “DeLeon,” “Garcia,” “Garza,” Gonzalez,” “Guerra-Canamar,” “Guevara,” “Leal,” “Quintanilla,” “Robles,” “Talamantes,” “Tijerina,” “Treviño,” “Vela,” “Villarreal” and ”Zuñiga”.
- Central Mexico (Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosi) with the surnames “Aguirre,” “Alvarez,” “Arriaga,” “Ayala,” “Bañuelos,” “Chavez,” “Escobedo,” “Esquivel,” “Perez,” “Rubio,” “Sustaita,” and “Zavala.”
- Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado with the surnames “Cordova,” “Gallegos,” “Martin-Serrano,” “Martinez,” “Montoya,” “Peralta,” and “Romero.”
- Indigenous California with the surnames “Rios,” “Uribes,” “Soto,” “Lara,” and “Romero.”
- Guatemala with the surname “Lopez.” (via the Doe Network)
This Doe’s NamUs profile surprised me – there is only one rule out listed. Now, this could mean one of two things: either missing persons are not being actively compared, or NamUs is not being updated as they are. Let’s hope it is the latter. The only listed rule out is Melanie Flynn, who went missing from Lexington, KY on February 26, 1977. This comparison is pretty baffling to me, as Melanie is white, at the high end of the age estimate, and disappeared more than halfway across the country. Regardless, we know that she is not Ventura County Doe.
The first missing person I have found that may be a possible match for the Ventura Doe is O’Dina Jeannette Lucero, who went missing from Roswell, NM on August 10, 1979. O’Dina’s vital statistics all fall within the range of the Doe. Additionally, O’Dina was just visiting New Mexico – she was from California. The issue with this would be how she managed to get to Ventura County, and what happened in the time between her disappearance and the murder.
Next, let’s look at Angela Mae Jeff. Angela went missing from Oakland, CA sometime in the summer of 1979, though the exact date and circumstances are unknown. Angela is a member of the Miwok Tribe. Her other statistics match up as well, though her exact height is unknown, so she may be taller than the Doe. The circumstances of her disappearance are also unknown, so it is hard to say whether it is likely she could have ended up in Ventura Country as the Doe.
We also know, based on genealogical studies conducted, that this Doe may have been from Mexico – since there are many members of her family tree there. If they had entered the United States without going through the formal immigration status, then it would make sense that they would not have been officially reported missing in the United States. It is also possible that they were living without housing, had no family, worked in the sex trade, were mentally ill, or left their life voluntarily – all of which are factors that could affect the filing of a missing persons report.
This case is really interesting because we know what happened at the end of this Doe’s life. We know who killed them, and where. They need their name back. They, and their unborn child, deserve to rest in peace, secure in their own identities, not as a formulaic case name. So, if you or anyone you know recognizes this Doe – of if you know of someone who went missing who matches the geographic profiles put forth by the genetic genealogical testing, please contact the proper authorities. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department can be reached at 805-383-8704 in reference to case number 80-12246. The Ventura County ME’s Office can be reached at 805-641-4400 in reference to agency case number 0780-80. The National Crime Information Center case number for this case is U1214298. The NamUs Case Number is 11249. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Case Number is 11249.