HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A homicide mystery that haunted Southern California police detectives for 52 years has been solved with genetic genealogy that identified the young woman who was slain and a now-deceased man who is suspected of being the killer, authorities said Thursday.
The victim was Anita Louise Piteau, 26, one of seven children in a family from Augusta, Maine, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Huntington Beach Police Chief Rob Handy saluted the persistence of investigators in pursuing justice over decades.
“Although the suspect was no longer alive to face the consequences, providing the family with the information of what happened to Anita and allowing them to properly lay her to rest is of tremendous importance,” he said.
Three boys playing in a farm field in the city of Huntington Beach found the victim’s body on March 14, 1968. The unidentified woman had been raped and severely beaten, and her neck was slashed.
Police conducted an extensive investigation and preserved evidence, including a cigarette butt found near the body. But the case went cold.
Buried in an unmarked grave in Newport Beach, the victim became Orange County’s oldest unsolved Jane Doe case as detective work continued over the decades to identify the victim and whoever killed her.
Analysis of evidence from the victim’s sexual assault kit and clothing developed a male DNA profile in 2001. But there was no identification.
A partial DNA profile produced from blood on the victim’s blouse was put into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, and her fingerprints were put into state and national databases. But the efforts were unsuccessful.
Analysis of the cigarette butt in 2010 produced a male DNA profile consistent with the profile developed from the assault kit, but again it did not lead to a suspect.
Last year, police and district attorney’s staff turned to the investigative genetic genealogy technique to find a possible family tree. That led to identification of a man named Johnny Chrisco as the suspect, authorities said.
Chrisco, who had not been one of the initial suspects in the case, had been discharged after three years in the Army following a psychological exam that found he had “a pattern of being quick to anger, easy to feel unjustly treated, chronically resentful, immature and impulsive,” the statement said.
Chrisco died of cancer in 2015 and was buried in Washington state, according to investigators, who still don’t know how he and the victim may have known each other.
Piteau was finally identified this year through DNA matches with her family, which includes two living sisters, a brother and other relatives.
Investigators took her remains home to her family in Maine and attended her memorial service last weekend.
“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,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in the statement.