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A longtime mystery is solved, 41 years after kids found a woman’s skull in California

A woman whose remains were discovered roughly 40 years ago by children in Southern California has been identified as Maritza Glean Grimmett. The remains, which were discovered in 1983 in what is now Lake Forest, Calif., were positively identified by investigators in the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department.
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
A woman whose remains were discovered roughly 40 years ago by children in Southern California has been identified as Maritza Glean Grimmett. The remains, which were discovered in 1983 in what is now Lake Forest, Calif., were positively identified by investigators in the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department.

A decades-old mystery is finally solved.

A woman whose remains were discovered nearly 41 years ago by children in Southern California has been identified by authorities.

The remains, which were discovered in 1983 in what is now Lake Forest, Calif., a city roughly 45 miles outside of Los Angeles, were positively identified by authorities as Maritza Glean Grimmett, according to the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department.

In a news release last Friday, the sheriff’s department said Grimmett, who was once identified as a "Jane Doe," was a Panamanian native who was just 20 years old when she disappeared. Grimmett married a U.S. Marine during the summer of 1978 and later moved to the United States, giving birth to a daughter that same year, the department said.

Grimmett was last heard from in July 1979 after telling her sister she was going to California following a divorce from her husband, the department said.

Sadly, her family said she was never seen or heard from again.

Once the children discovered Grimmett's skull, investigators at the time searched and dug up the area, eventually finding about 70% of Grimmett's remains. An anthropology exam conducted by officials in Orange County showed Grimmett was a Black or bi-racial woman between the ages of 18 and 24 years old and stood between 5 feet, 3 inches to 5 feet, 6 inches tall, according to deputies.

Grimmett also was reported to have "a distinctive gold tooth."

Despite repeated attempts, investigators could not positively identify Grimmett — leaving her identity a mystery for decades.

To help aid the search, investigators turned to forensic genetic genealogy

It wasn’t until 2022 that investigators with the Orange County Sheriff's Department submitted a DNA sample from Grimmett to Othram Laboratories, a genetic genealogy company, to help with the search. Cold case investigators with the Orange County Sheriff's Department eventually began working with the FBI’s Regional Genealogy Team to conduct investigative genetic genealogy.

After years of work, "a direct family line" for Grimmett was eventually found in late 2023. The distance relative suggested to deputies that they share the findings of the forensics investigation to a Facebook group focused on women who went missing during the 1970s and 1980s, the sheriff's department said.

About a month after posting the findings, the Orange County Sheriff's Department said they were contacted by a woman, who believed the body found in 1983 in Lake Forest was her missing mother.

More than four decades after children found a skull while playing, authorities have identified the woman as Maritza Glean Grimmett. A native of Panama, Grimmett moved to the U.S. in the 1970s.
/ Orange County Sheriff's Department
/
Orange County Sheriff's Department
More than four decades after children found a skull while playing, authorities have identified the woman as Maritza Glean Grimmett. A native of Panama, Grimmett moved to the U.S. in the 1970s.

With this new development, Orange County deputies say they hope it will bring some sort of resolution to Grimmett's family and will help aid in finding out exactly how she died.

"Her family members passed never knowing what ever happened to her," Bob Taft, an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, told NPR.

Taft emphasized that he never uses the word “closure” when it comes to investigations involving missing people — adding that for the families who are experiencing this type of trauma, there will never fully be closure.

"I feel the department, along with me personally, owe it to these families and loved ones to maintain the same tenacity in finding answers as the families do in searching for answers in looking for their loved ones," he added.

The positive identification of Grimmett represents the 39th case in California where authorities have publicly identified an individual using advanced technology, according to DNA Solves.

Advancements in technology have helped other cold cases

In recent years, the evolution of DNA technology has played a significant role in helping identify the remains of unidentified individuals across the United States.

In March, officials with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that the remains of David Walker from Norfolk, Va., were positively identified after military officials exhumed the unidentified remains of 25 people from the USS California who were buried in Honolulu.

Walker, who was just 19 years old when his battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941, was presumed dead following the attack. His body was finally recovered after eight decades.

In February, authorities in Oregon were able to identify a woman whose remains were found in a shallow grave by a Boy Scout troop leader nearly 54 years ago. The woman, later identified as Sandra Young, was a teenager from Portland who went missing between 1968 and 1969, according to Oregon state authorities.

In an interview with Portland TV station KOIN 6, Young's nephew, Lorikko Burkett Gibbs, told the TV station that there are still many unanswered questions surrounding his aunt's death.

"I know it's still being investigated, but I think there needs to be more investigation about this," Gibbs said. "The person who did this needs to pay for what they've done."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.

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