Oldest Orange County cold case solved: The Huntington Beach Jane Doe

August 18, 2020

Oldest Orange County cold case solved: The Huntington Beach Jane Doe

On March 14, 1968, three boys discovered the body of a woman dumped in a field in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California. She was white or Hispanic, with brown hair and eyes, short, standing at 5”2, around 130lbs and estimated to be 20-30 years old. She was dressed in purple trousers, a white blouse with a floral print, a faux leather jacket and black Owego brand shoes found to be sold at a store in upstate New York.

The woman had been raped and her throat had been cut before her killer pushed her out of the driver-side door of his vehicle into the muddy bean field on Newland Street and York Town Avenue just after midnight.

The killer left behind only two clues pertaining to his identity- a smoked cigarette and a set of tire tracks.  Detectives believe the woman had possibly been thumbing for a ride when she was picked up by the perpetrator and driven out to the field where the two likely talked while the male smoked a cigarette. They speculated that the woman likely rejected her killer’s advances and that he raped and killed her in reaction before driving off. Jane Doe had damage to her face that indicated her attacker had punched her and it appeared that she had been dragged into a nearby drainage ditch.

Because she had only been dead for a few hours before the body was discovered, her face was in a recognizable state. Sketches of Jane Doe were circulated in the media, but the public were unable to identify her. Without a name, she became known as The Huntington Beach Jane Doe and was buried in the nearby Newark cemetery in an unmarked grave. She remained nameless and her killer unidentified for 52 years, making the murder of Huntington Jane Doe the oldest unsolved case in the County.

Although unidentified she was not forgotten. Over the years, investigators tried various methods to identify both the victim and the killer. Her clothing was tested and DNA found on her body was matched to that found on the cigarette and both profiles were entered into CODIS.

Thanks to advances in DNA technology many decades-old cold cases are being solved nationally each year. In 2019 with the aid of Identifinders International and tireless police investigation, Orange County’s oldest cold case was finally solved, with both the victim and her killer being identified through evidence found and preserved from the scene.

After half a century of laying in an unmarked grave, Huntington police were finally able to give Jane Doe back her name: Anita Louise Piteau.

Piteau hailed from Maine and was traveling through Southern California on her way to Hollywood where she wanted to make it as a star. Like many aspiring actors with their sights set on L.A, Piteau wound up working as a waiter, which she did for around a year before she was brutally raped and murdered. She had just turned 26 when her life was cruelly taken from her.

Anita Piteau regularly kept in touch with her family back home, writing them every day without fail, but one day in March 1968, the letters stopped abruptly, and they never heard from her again. They tried to track her down to no avail but never gave up searching. For decades they were completely unaware of what had happened to their loved one. Anita’s remains were exhumed and transported back to her family in Maine who held a service for her in her hometown. Although deeply pained by the reality of what happened to Anita, they appreciated the closure and having the opportunity to hold a service for her and have her remains close to home.

Her killer was identified as Johnny Chrisco. Sadly, Chrisco could not be brought to justice as he died of throat cancer in Washington in 2015. Very little is known of Anita’s killer other than his name, cause and date of death and the fact that he served in the military and has an arrest on his record from 1971. Investigators are unsure if the pair knew each other prior to the murder or what the connection between them was. Chrisco served in the military for three years before being discharged. Descriptions of his character during his service paint him as an emotionally tumultuous individual with a bad temper who often resorted to impulsive behavior when he felt like he was treated unfairly. A mugshot, presumably from his arrest in 1971, shows an aging white male with long slicked back hair and a moustache. Chrisco had little to no contact with his family and did not seem to have any friends to speak of. He had never been a suspect in the case and without DNA testing he would never have been linked to the murder.

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