The Woman in the Red Coffin Jul 9, 2018 8:44:01 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Jul 9, 2018 8:44:01 GMT -5
The Woman in the Red Coffin
ANTELOPE VALLEY, Calif. – It’s been almost 50 years since hunters found the decomposed body of a woman in a red homemade coffin hidden in the desert. Still, detectives are no closer to ascertaining the lady’s identity. She is known as Jane Doe #40 and for the past six years, police have been asking for the public’s assistance in solving the murder. “What we’re doing is asking the public if they have any recollection at all of anyone matching this description,” said Sgt. Richard Longshore in 2012, who was a member of the Cold Case Unit at the time, and shared details of the case.
On Sunday, December 8, 1968, a group of hunters came across a coffin about 15 feet from the from 188th Street East, just south of Fort Tejon Road. “It was behind a tree or bush and could not be seen from the roadway,” Longshore advised. “It was covered with dead limbs of trees and rocks and some dirt.”
The hunters contacted the Lancaster Station and deputies pried open the coffin. Inside, they found the decomposed, mummified body of a 5'4" white female, who appeared to be 35- to 50-years old, with short auburn hair turning grey. Her hair was in bobby-pinned curls and she was wearing a hairnet, as though she had been getting ready for bed. She was wearing pink pajamas and a red and white checked robe and someone had placed a paper bag over her head to protect her face.
The lady had been shot. “The cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound through and through, so there is no ballistics,” Longshore added. “That means it went in one portion of the body and exited the other.”
The women’s appearance combined with the manner in which the coffin was constructed led law enforcement officers to believe she was the victim of domestic violence. Longshore said the earth beneath the coffin was quite compact and it wasn’t an easy hole to dig.
The lid of the well-constructed plywood coffin had been glued down, then nailed shut, after which it was painted a reddish-brown color. The woman was carefully wrapped in two multicolored quilts and her head was resting on a brocade pillow. The larger quilt measured 70" by 80" and featured fabrics in various shades of red and blue on one said and solid green on the other. The other quilt, in the same pattern and colors, measured 67" x 76". Someone had also placed a copy of the July 1, 1967, issue of The Los Angeles Times in the coffin, possibly because that was the day she died.
“Someone used a lot of care in putting her in that coffin,” Longshore continued. “One could speculate that the way that the coffin was constructed that he was concerned about animal intervention.”
The medical examiner estimated the lady had been dead between three months to a year when she was found. She had crowns on the front teeth of her upper jaw and several gold fillings. She had also undergone a hysterectomy and had given birth at least once during her lifetime.
The body was too decomposed for a fingerprint comparison. “There are ways of hydrating fingerprints, they tried that,” Longshore explained. “However, because of the nature of the decomposition, there was an insufficient ridge count available from the fingerprints to make a determination.”
Longshore said detectives also looked to the woman’s clothing for clues. Her robe had a label on it that said “Viyella woven in Great Britain” and “Designed by Sadie Shaw,” he indicated. “I’ve done a lot of research and gone through textile associations and vintage clothing warehouses and it’s fairly common place apparently in the UK. We don’t know that it was ever exported to the United States for sale.”
According to Longshore, there were no reports of missing people at the time of the woman’s discovery. He said investigators sent letters to Las Vegas, Reno and several other places in hopes of finding missing females who matched the woman’s description, but to no avail.
Today, only one of the hunters who discovered Jane Doe #40 is still alive. The youngest member was 19-years-old at the time, and is now 68. “So you can see with the passage of time, not only do the memories fade, but people fade away as well,” Longshore observed.
He added that the person responsible for the murder is more than likely deceased. “But she still has family members or still has neighbors that remember her,” he insisted. “We owe it to them to give them an answer.”
The department never closes cold cases, he confirmed, indicating the investigation into the death of Jane Doe#40 will continue and he is hoping the public can help.
If you have information, or anyone you know has information regarding this case, contact the Cold Case Squad at (323) 890-5500. If you would rather provide information anonymously, call Crimestoppers at (800) 222-8477.
Sources: M. Dilworth, The Antelope Valley Times, May 25, 2012, and The Doe Network, International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons.