As was her suspected murderer, Anita Louise Piteau, who was murdered and had her throat slit in 1968, is named by family DNA.
Her mouth was pinched. She was wearing a blouse with a floral design and purple jeans. Her corpse was discovered in Huntington Bay, in a bean field. Her heels, size 7, gave an hint-they were made in New York’s upstate.
Cop teams and young cadets walked side by side through the muddy field near Newland Street corner and Yorktown Avenue. We find a cigarette butt and tyre marks.
But she could not be identified.
She became identified as “Jane Doe” or “68-00745-C” by the coroner’s code. She became attacked, murdered and thrown out of a car’s passenger side.
And now, after 52 years, both the suspect and the suspected murderer have been named, due to some clever genealogical research.
In June, investigators from Huntington Beach, using family DNA tests, told a family in Maine that the solution to the oldest Jane Doe murder case in Orange County was a teenage fugitive from 1968.
Anita Louise Piteau, whose family history stretches through Augusta and Lewiston, Maine, has named the individual as. Police on Wednesday July 22 said they suspect a man called Johnny Chrisco, who died in 2015 at the age of 71, murdered her.
Detectives from Huntington Beach have recognized the name for more than a month but have not made a formal statement to the media or verified Piteau ‘s identification until Southern California News Community inquiries this week. Their declaration was slowed down because they had made a documentary sequence on the crime-the film was shelved-and worked with the relatives of Piteau, Bennett said. Meanwhile, as of late Wednesday afternoon the county coroner ‘s page also classified the Huntington Beach corpse as an unnamed Jane Doe.
A funeral ceremony for Anita Piteau was conducted in Maine this past weekend and a group of law enforcement from Orange County traveled there to participate.
“We got a call in June, and they said it was confirmed,” said Jean Pichette, a distant cousin of Anita Piteau. “They said, ‘We closed the case.'”
Pichette said last weekend his cousin Steve Sabo, who lives in Maryland and works at the Pentagon, had been driving nine hours to Maine to attend the funeral.
Earle Robitaille, now 89, was in March 1968, when Anita Piteau was murdered, director of the Huntington Beach detective office.
“Her throat was slit from ear to ear,” he said. “There’s no identification, and DNA was not even in the picture. It was obviously sexually motivated to a degree.”
Robitaille identified the field hunt, where they found shoes, a cigarette butt and tracks of tyres. In the situation the clothes will then become the fall.
“We preserved it, thank God,” he said.
Robitaille said his investigators were sent by a forensic dentist on a “wild goose chase” who claimed the victim’s dental work in Mexico was shoddy and possibly completed.
“That threw everything off,” he said.
Former homicide investigator Pat Ellis, who began working with his colleague Mike Reilly on the case in 2010, said he got information “in the last few days” regarding the finding.
“I’m happy she’s been identified and that she went back home with her family,” Ellis said.
Amy Spanfellner, who works for ancestry.com as a “contact fairy,” said she has been investigating the case with investigators from Huntington Beach since 2017. She has a friend that is absent named Emily Roberta Jordan. She said she originally figured Jane Doe might have been her aunt in the Orange County. She was told to support authorities because she realized it was not her family.
Spanfellner claimed the police had not provided sufficiently DNA from Jane Doe’s corpse, she was originally advised.
“I pushed and educated the detective on private DNA labs,” she said. “They didn’t even have sufficient DNA on (Jane Doe).”
In 2019 the corpse was exhumed but “that turned out to be a dead end,” said Ellis.
Ellis said the Orange County Coroner buried the unidentified corpse in Newport Beach (instead of in a potter’s field) where investigators could locate the corpse for additional research in the future.
Ellis dropped back in January. One of his last actions as a murder investigator was to request Jane Doe ‘s garments to be re-test. That’s why they’ve seen hits with DNA that lead Piteau and Chrisco.
They called Colleen Fitzpatrick, who is the director of Identifinders International and is doing genealogical work for the Office of the Orange County District Attorney, after they got a shot.
Fitzpatrick started creating ancestral trees with Jane Doe’s distant cousins.
“She’s going to be in those trees,” Fitzpatrick said.
It was a Saturday, when she noticed Steve Sabo ‘s email. And Sabo received a call from a investigator.
“That was the ‘Oh my God’ moment,’” Fitzpatrick said.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Sabo said police called him in June and questioned, “Was I aware of anybody who was missing in my family?”
Abo and Pichette, who had never seen Anita Piteau, find the obituary of Constance Saucier, a distant relative. They consider the following connection in the obituary: “Connie was predeceased by her parents, her sister Theresa Piteau Gallagher, her brother Robert Piteau and her sister Anita Piteau (missing since 1970).”
The date was wrong but it was not the name. Pichette said he learned rumors of his family that when she was a child Anita ran away from home of Maine. He found the information in a book written in French about the family history.
He hadn’t learned of Anita before after the May phone call, he began work.
“It’s quite surprising,” Pichette said.
Robitaille, the detective bureau ‘s longtime Huntington Beach boss, said he was alone in his kitchen as investigators placed the case before him.
They told him, first, that Jane Doe was Anita Piteau.
“She was star struck, and came to California to make it in the movies,” Robitaille said. “I was tickled to death they identified her.”
Instead they asked him about Johnny Chrisco, the suspected rapist, whose Blood was discovered on the victim’s clothes.
Robitaille said Chrisco was in the Army. In 1971 they had a booking photo of him from the Orange County Prison. Robitaille claimed that Chrisco was the mirror picture of serial murderer Rodney Alcala, dubbed “The Murderer Dating Game.”
“They were like twins,” Robitaille said.
He said that he wishes Chrisco had faced justice for Piteau ‘s murder.
“He died of throat cancer,” Robitaille said. “That’s a fairly good punishment.”
In Maine, Robitaille called members of the Piteau family to inform them the story. He said he had hoped the disclosures would give them a feeling of closure.
“I apologized that we couldn’t have done more at the time,” Robitaille said.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer commended Huntington Beach Police’s relentless search.
“Nothing, not even the death of the killer himself, will deter the pursuit of justice,” Spitzer said. “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.”
“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.”
Huntington Beach Police Chief Rob Handy said Piteau ‘s quest to pursue accountability has proven officers and lawyers determination.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Anita Louise Piteau was buried next to Constance Saucier, in Waterville, Maine.
About 20 people participated, including three members of the Huntington Beach Police Force and an inspector from the Office of an Orange County District Attorney.
Investigator Dave Dierking has given the prosecution a timetable to clarify to the public the investigative investigation.
“There was no justice, but it was closure,” Sabo said. “Now the family had an answer to why she disappeared.”
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