VC Medical Examiner: Remains identified, second body found in 2000 still a mystery

August 18, 2006
Santa Paula News

Although the identification of remains discovered by a family playing in the snow in a remote area of Upper Ojai has been finalized, another family - whose daughter, mother or sister’s bones was found in another area of the county - is still awaiting closure.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesAlthough the identification of remains discovered by a family playing in the snow in a remote area of Upper Ojai has been finalized, another family - whose daughter, mother or sister’s bones was found in another area of the county - is still awaiting closure.Six years after the bones were confirmed to be those of Deborah J. Makules her remains were cremated and returned to her family in New Mexico, who reported her missing a dozen years ago. The remains were identified late last year using dental records and DNA.Armando Chavez, now the Senior Deputy Medical Examiner and chief investigator on the case, tried to determine her identity for years, working with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and Ventura Police Department.Deborah, 30 at that time that she went missing, was not the only mystery in the Ventura County Medical Examiners Office: the bones of another woman - still unidentified, discovered almost exactly two months before Deborah’s, were found by a surveyor off Grimes Canyon Road and Broadway. That case was also assigned to Chavez.Deborah was a resident of Ventura at the time of her disappearance. Where she had been, who she had been with and why her bones were wrapped in a tablecloth and buried just beneath the surface in a heavily wooded area of Los Padres National Forest is still a mystery.A female journalist playing with her daughter and her daughter’s friend stumbled across the bones on March 5, 2000 as they searched for items to build a snowman.Born Aug. 8, 1964, Deborah was 30 when she went missing. Although she maintained a residence in Ventura, she was known to stay with friends throughout Ventura and Piru.
When the Jane Doe was first discovered, Chavez commented that the remains had teeth that showed care and regular visits to the dentist, lessening the probability that the woman had been a vagrant. But it was her jewelry that Chavez believed would bring a quick resolution to determining who Jane Doe actually was.“I had a level of confidence when we first had the remains brought into the office that she would be easy to identify because of the jewelry... it was very identifiable. I thought it would be a slam dunk” because of the distinctive silver-colored ring, the cutout design reading Jesus, found among the remains. Found nearby was a silver or high-quality costume silver-colored braided necklace.But “time passed,” and the flurry of initial media attention on the discovery soon became as dead as Jane Doe herself. “Once we didn’t get any hits on her identity,” in spite of the unusual jewelry, “I believed that the body would be with us for a length of time,” noted Chavez.Up until recently most agencies had not collected dental records of those reported missing, but “Now, it’s one of the first things” requested, said Chavez. Ultimately, it was dental records that revealed Deborah’s identity and now the Department of Justice is even attempting to establish DNA profiles of skeletal remains.“I think our system is only going to get better in the future,” with more aggressive tests of remains. “With Deborah, luckily, somehow, someway her dental records popped up and she was identified. It’s sad... we get calls from people” asking about a missing friend or family member, often years after the disappearance. In such cases, “Unfortunately, it’s almost certain we’ll never find dental records for those people ever,” said Chavez.Such might be the case for the other Jane Doe, discovered below a Grimes Canyon cliff on January 7, 2000. The female skeleton was nearly intact and that of a Caucasian or Latino, about 30 to 50 years old, between 5 feet 3 inches and 5 feet 6 inches tall. The woman was of slender build, with medium-length, straight, reddish-brown hair, and was wearing blue jeans, underpants, a T-shirt and distinctive knee-high trouser socks sporting a black diamond pattern.The body may have been out below the road from between a few months to up to five years, Chavez said at the time. “Anyone could have come from any direction and dumped her there... but we thought because of the clothing,” especially the unusual socks, that the media exposure would provide clues to her identity. More than six years later Chavez is still waiting.A puzzling aspect of the find was that the remains showed expensive dental work that had been completed over the last five years, including crowns, fillings and a two-tooth bridge. Her dental work probably takes the woman out of the category of being a transient, and means that identifying her would be easy based on dental records... that is, noted Chavez, if even the slightest lead to her identity could be developed.

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