Investigative genetic genealogy helps Huntington Beach Police, District Attorney’s Office identify Maine woman as 1968 homicide victim and finds her killer
SANTA ANA, Calif. – After a 52-year manhunt, investigative genetic genealogy has helped the Huntington Beach Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office identify the victim in Orange County’s oldest unsolved Jane Doe murder and find her killer.
On March 14, 1968, three young boys playing in a large farm field near the corner of Newland Avenue and Yorktown Street in Huntington Beach found the body of a woman. She had been raped, severely beaten and her neck was slashed.
For more than five decades she remained a Jane Doe, her body buried in an unmarked grave in a Newport Beach cemetery waiting to be identified.
Her name is Anita Louise Piteau of Augusta, Maine, one of seven children. She was 26 years old.
Huntington Beach police officers who responded to the scene carefully preserved the crime scene evidence, including a smoked cigarette butt found near the victim’s body. Despite extensive follow-up and an exhaustive number of interviews, police were unable to identify the victim or her killer.
The case went cold. But the Huntington Beach Police Department refused to give up, continuing to follow up on leads.
In 2001 the victim’s sexual assault kit and the victim’s clothing were examined and processed for DNA. A male DNA profile was identified but the suspect remained unknown.
Blood from the victim’s blouse produced a partial DNA profile, which was entered into the CODIS missing person database in March 29, 2011. Her fingerprints were entered into the CAL- ID system and the FBI national fingerprint database. But she remained unidentified.
In 2010, a partial male DNA profile was obtained from the cigarette butt recovered from the crime scene and was consistent with the DNA profile obtained from the victim’s sexual assault kit, but the DNA could not be tied to a suspect.
Beginning in 2011, the case was repeatedly submitted to Cal-DOJ for a familial search in CODIS. No workable leads were generated.
In 2019, Huntington Beach detectives worked with members of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to use investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) to identify a possible family tree of the suspect. As a result, investigators determined the suspect was Johnny Chrisco, who was not one of the initial suspects in the case. Chrisco, who was discharged from the Army after three years following a failed psychological exam that diagnosed him with having positive aggressive reaction which was defined as having a pattern of being quick to anger, easy to feel unjustly treated, chronically resentful, immature and impulsive. Chrisco died in 2015 of cancer 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 renowned genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, Anita was finally identified through DNA matches with her family.
Anita has two living sisters, a brother, and many extended family members who have been searching for her for the last 52 years. Due to the unwavering dedication and determination by so many law enforcement officers over five decades, this cold case has never been forgotten.
Huntington Beach Police Chief Rob Handy stated, “I am extremely grateful and proud of the extraordinary efforts of the active and retired members of the Huntington Beach Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in their tireless pursuit of justice for Anita and her family. The fact they never stopped working this case for more than five decades is a tremendous testament to the two departments and our law enforcement profession. There is nothing more important to a victim and their family to know that law enforcement will never give up. 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.”
Investigators from the Huntington Beach Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s office took Anita’s remains home to her family in Maine and attended her memorial service last weekend.
“Nothing, not even the death of the killer himself, will deter the pursuit of justice. The death of a 26-year-old woman who was left in a farm field raped, beaten and her neck slashed haunted generations of Huntington Beach police officers who refused to give up on identifying Jane Doe and finding the person who robbed a young woman of a lifetime of memories,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “After more than five decades, advances in investigative genetic genealogy did what old-fashioned police work could not: give Jane Doe a name and identify her killer. It is technology and the determination of the Huntington Beach Police Department and prosecutors, forensic scientists and investigators from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office that allowed Anita’s family to finally bring her home and lay her to rest. 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.”
Detectives are still trying to determine how the victim and suspect knew each other. If you recognize either Anita Piteau or Johnny Chrisco, please contact the Huntington Beach Police Tip Line at 714-375-5066.