What struck Los Angeles Police Det. Cliff Shepard most about the petite Jane Doe was how young she looked. The coroner said she could be as old as 28, but Shepard felt she could be as young as 13. She was discovered behind an apartment complex near 84th Street and Figueroa, in south-central Los Angeles, on December 5, 1987. Her clothing was found on an adjacent driveway, where it appeared the killer had picked her up, peeled off her clothing, and then carried her through a hole made in a chain link fence.
“If you followed the clothing, it led to her body,” Shepard says.
She was strangled and bludgeoned with a heavy object.
The details of the case have remained with Shepard, even though he retired from the LAPD in January. He served 37 years, many of them as a homicide detective re-examining cold cases. When he left for good a few of the unsolved cases stayed with him, particularly the Jane Does. He still hopes that with any luck he can find their names.
When Shepard first came across the south-central Jane Doe he faced an uphill battle. It was 15 years after the murder. A Senior Homicide Supervisor had authorized the sexual assault evidence in the case to be destroyed; Shepard doesn’t know why. Case history indicated the Jane Doe mystery had been passed from detective to detective without any real progress. For whatever reason the case languished.
It was a mess, save for one silver lining: Shepard believes he knows who killed her.
The murder of Paula Vance, in downtown Los Angeles in 1998, was eerily caught on videotape. Five security cameras captured portions of the violent crime but just as the suspect’s face came into view the camera cut away.caught on vid
Shepard reviewed the Vance case while working in the LAPD’s cold-case unit, and tried to have the footage of her murder enlarged. That didn’t work, but a DNA hit eventually did, and what it revealed was a bombshell ---- the man who killed Paula Vance was also responsible for at least 10 other murders between 1987 and 1998, most of them along the Figueroa corridor in south-central Los Angeles.
That man was later identified as Chester DeWayne Turner, a pizza deliveryman and convicted rapist with a rough background and long rap sheet.
Chester DeWayne Turner
Turner was sentenced to death in 2007 for the murders. Authorities believe he’s responsible for many more.
Jane Doe’s case particularly resembles Turner’s murder of Elandra Bunn, whose naked body was discovered in June 1987 in an alley near 88th and Figueroa. Bunn was beaten and strangled.
Shepard had a chance to interview Turner at San Quentin. He knew that Turner, a prolific criminal, wasn’t incarcerated at the time of Jane Doe’s murder, and the circumstances fit his M.O. He asked Turner about her.
One of the most prolific serial killers in Los Angeles history denied killing her. In fact, despite DNA linking him to his crimes and videotape evidence to the contrary, Chester Turner denied killing anyone.
Questions remain. Prostitution and drugs plagued the neighborhood where Jane Doe was found. That she was a prostitute is a possibility, though it’s worth noting no vice officers identified her as one. If she was a young teenager, why wasn’t her family looking for her? Was she a runaway, a street kid from out of town?
In 2006 Shepard discovered some evidence related to the case at the Coroner’s office, including a blood swatch. That means if it hasn't already Jane Doe’s DNA profile will be entered into the California DOJ Missing Persons system.
But science can only go so far. What the case needs is someone who knew her, recognizes her, and who can, at last, give her back her name.
(I apologize if the post-mortem facial photo below is upsetting to some people. It’s the best hope for identifying her).