DNA solved cold case

In February 1968 Anita Louise Piteau wrote a letter to her family saying she had visited Hollywood and taken a tour of stars’ homes. In her letter, she wrote about her plan to return to the East Coast in May. This was the last time when her family heard from her.

Her family and relatives spent the next 52 years searching for her.

At the last, Investigators in Orange County, California finally solved the mystery of what had happened to Ms. Piteau.

Photo Credit: Orange County District Attorney’s Office

Using DNA evidence that had been preserved for decades, investigators determined that her body had been left in a field in Huntington Beach, Calif., after she was sexually assaulted and killed in 1968, when she was 26.

The case dates to March 14, 1968, when three young boys playing in a large farm field in Huntington Beach found the body of a woman. She had been sexually assaulted and severely beaten, and her neck was slashed.

The police officers who responded to the scene carefully preserved evidence from the field, including a smoked cigarette butt found near the victim’s body, the district attorney’s office said. The police worked hard but couldn’t identify the victim or her killer, and the case went cold.

Then, in 2001, investigators extracted DNA from the victim’s clothing and the sexual assault kit and developed a profile for an unknown male killer. Nearly 10 years later, a partial DNA profile that was taken from the cigarette butt matched the DNA from the assault kit. But still, investigators could not find a suspect.

In 2011, blood from the victim’s blouse yielded a partial DNA profile, which was entered into a missing persons database. The victim’s fingerprints were also entered into state and F.B.I. databases. But investigators could not generate leads to identify the victim.

The mystery began to unravel when investigators turned to genetic genealogy, in which DNA samples are used to find relatives of suspects and eventually the suspects themselves.

Investigators developed a family tree for the suspect that helped them identify him as Mr. Chrisco, who was not one of the initial suspects in the killing, according to the district attorney’s office.

Police on July 22, 2020 said, she was killed by a man named Johnny Chrisco, who died at age 71 in 2015.

Mr. Chrisco had been discharged from the Army in 1963 after he was diagnosed with “positive aggressive reaction,” which was defined as anger management issues, easy to feel ill treated, immature and impulsive, the district attorney’s office said. He had a long arrest record. According to the district attorney’s office, He died of cancer in 2015 and was buried in Washington State.

Earlier this year, detectives, prosecutors and forensic scientists began working on a possible family tree of the victim. With the help of Colleen Fitzpatrick genetic genealogist, investigators identified Ms. Piteau through DNA matches with her siblings.

Finally, family get informed about her daughter.

“There was no justice, but it was closure,”  Steve Sabo (family member) said. “Now the family had an answer to why she disappeared.”