A teenage girl found lifeless in a shallow grave near San Francisco’s Lake Merced more than 43 years ago has finally been identified through DNA analysis.
The victim, who became known over the years as Jane Doe No. 40, was positively identified as 14-year-old Judy Gifford, her family learned last month.
A 17-year-old boy named Donald McIsaac discovered Judy’s remains on Oct. 1, 1976, the same year she moved to San Francisco with her father, his wife and her two half-siblings.
McIsaac, who was looking for turtle eggs, found Judy’s “badly decomposed” body “6 inches (0.5 feet) below the surface of sandy soil about 20 feet (6.1 meters) from the lake shore,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Police described the victim, who died of strangulation, as a petite, brown-haired Asian girl between the ages of 14 to 20.
She was fully-clothed, wore several accessories — including a pair of gold earrings and a Timex watch —and carried an owl necklace in her pocket.
In 2017, one of Judy’s half-siblings, William Shin, who now lives in Maryland, reported her as a missing person after remembering “having a sister when he was a child,” the New Jersey State Police said.
“He told investigators that his sister went missing when she was 14 years old, and his family had not seen or heard from her since 1976,” the police agency added.
Earlier this year, a review of missing persons matched details of Judy’s disappearance with those of Jane Doe No. 40, prompting further investigation.
A San Francisco investigator then requested assistance from the New Jersey State Police and the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland to collect DNA samples from William and Judy’s aunt, Ogee Gifford, who previously took care of her.
The California Department of Justice Missing Persons Laboratory eventually determined that the DNA of the unidentified murder victim matched Ogee’s.
With the DNA results, some photographs, and dental records in hand, New Jersey State Police detectives confirmed Judy’s identity to her family on Nov. 22.
“I always wondered what happened to her,” Ogee, now in her late 80s, told KPIX. “My mind is finally at peace. God rest her soul.”
The investigation into Judy’s death, which was ruled a homicide, remains open.
Anyone with information related to her case can call the San Francisco Police Department’s tip line at 415-575-4444 or text a tip beginning with “SFPD” to TIP411.
Feature Images via Gifford Family (Left) and New Jersey State Police (Right)