She was distinct looking, tall and willowy, and had a mouthful of dental work, suggesting a middle-class background and parents who cared. So why, former homicide detective Cliff Shepard wants to know, does she still not have a name?
Someone does wonder about her. Shepard does. He had wanted to identify her before he retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. During his career he chased and helped capture some of L.A.’s most infamous bad guys --- Rodney Acala, Chester Turner, the Grim Sleeper. But the young Jane Doe, whose long-forgotten file he came across in the archives, proved elusive. Shepard served 37 years with the LAPD. He retired in January. He hung up the badge, but didn’t retire the detective’s need for answers.
Jane Doe No. 59 is one he’d still like to close.
Her body was discovered November 16, 1969, trapped in some brush down an embankment in the area off Mulholland Drive and Skyline Drive, in Los Angeles. She had over a 100 stab wounds, particularly along her neck and upper body, an “overkill” that, to Shepard, suggests either a “maniac” or love gone wrong motive.
She’d been dead for a day or so. She was Caucasian, in her early twenties, 5’9 ½”, 112 pounds, tinted brown hair, green eyes, with a one and one-quarter inch scar horizontally under her right breast and a light brown birth mark on her right buttock, the size of a quarter. She had 16 silver amalgam dental fillings.
Shepard believes she could have come from the East or Northeast, or even Canada. Her clothes, a long-sleeve sweater shirt, a blue corduroy jacket, and knee-high boots, were slightly heavy for California. Some of her clothing had tags that read “Made in Canada.” She wore “Landlubber” style blue jeans, which were manufactured in Boston. Her belt reads “Thom 38” or possibly “Tham 38.”
'60's era ad for Landlubber clothes
The medical examiner found no evidence of smog in her lungs, suggesting she was new to the Los Angeles area. He did find a slight trace of tuberculosis, which she could have thought was a cold. Another clue about geography: there was some evidence of coal dust in the lungs, the kind that would come from living near coal-burning plants or mines.
Her boots, and clothes, below
The most obvious possibility that comes to mind when one hears the date of Jane Doe’s murder, and the location where her body was found, is a Manson Family connection.
On August 9, 1969 actress Sharon Tate and four others were brutally murdered at Tate’s hilltop estate in Benedict Canyon. The next night supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, were murdered in a similar fashion in the Los Feliz neighborhood.
It would take several months for police to link the killings back to Charles Manson, the malevolent leader of a fringe commune on the outskirts of Los Angeles that called itself the Manson Family.
Manson members at ranch
But through the fall of ’69 until Dec. 1, when the LAPD made the big announcement of a break in the case, Manson and the Family were under scrutiny. There were raids and arrests at the Family’s ranches. In Helter Skelter, his book about the case, Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi says that peripheral associates of the Family received death threats around this time.
After news accounts about Jane Doe were released a Spahn Ranch worker familiar with Family members identified her from a composite and clothing descriptions as a “hippie” girl known as “Sherry” who came from Simi Valley.
But “Sherry from Simi Valley” was located, very much alive. The problem is that Family members frequently used aliases, interchangeably, and also borrowed and exchanged clothes.
In Helter Skelter Bugliosi mentions Jane Doe No. 59 and wonders if her murder might be related to the mysterious death, on Nov. 5, of Manson associate John Haught, also known as “Zero.” She may have been present at Haught’s death and killed so she wouldn’t talk, he conjectures.
Stabbing and overkill were certainly the Manson Family’s style. The Tate murder scene on Cielo Drive is about 6 miles from where Jane Doe was found.
The Manson Family has been in the news again recently, and the announcement could lead to answers in Jane Doe’s case. A judge ruled that the LAPD could have access to 8 cassette tapes containing hours of conversations between Charles “Tex” Watson, one of Charles Manson’s right-hand men who’s currently serving a life sentence for his role in the Manson murders, and Watson’s former attorney.
The LAPD hopes the tapes will hold new clues about the Family’s involvement in other unsolved murders. There’s no indication police are looking in particular for clues about Jane Doe No. 59, but her case has always been a “Manson possible,” so it’s likely she’s on their list.
Cliff Shepard, while open to the possibility of a Manson link, cautions against jumping to conclusions. Virtually every unsolved murder in that era has been, at some time or another, attributed to Manson and his followers.
“It was a different time,” Shepard points out, full of transience, hitchhiking, and young people casting off from their families, sometimes with tragic consequences.
Back then people often had larger families, Shepard says, and his hope is that Jane Doe might have siblings who are alive, and who still wonder about her.
Jane Doe is in NAMUS (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System). Her fingerprints, dental chart and DNA profile are available.
Which brings me to the next, somewhat uncomfortable part. It’s been 43 years without any real leads. It’s my feeling that the best hope for identifying Jane Doe is to get her image out there. That’s why I’m including a post-mortem facial photo below, carefully photo-shopped to make her more presentable. I apologize if the image is upsetting to some people. I weighed the discomfort it might cause against the possibility that someone might recognize her, and decided to post it.
Someone must wonder about her. Someone must know her name. Write firstname.lastname@example.org if you do.
Original police bulletin
Jane Doe No. 59