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More than 40 years after an unidentified teenage girl was found dead in San Francisco, California, authorities have confirmed her identity.
Judy Gifford, 14, was known for 43 years as Jane Doe No. 40 — an unidentified girl who had died via strangulation, and whose body was found buried in the Lake Merced area in 1976, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Gifford was positively identified after an investigation involving the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit and the San Francisco Police Department, New Jersey police announced on Facebook on Thursday, December 12. According to the department, a man who was out walking his dog on October 1, 1976 spotted a hand sticking out of a sandy area behind a gas station. However, there seems to be some debate regarding how Gifford’s body was first found; the Chronicle, citing an article that ran in the paper on October 2, 1976, reports that it was actually a 17-year-old boy who was out digging for turtle eggs who found Gifford’s body, which police described back then as “badly decomposed” and buried “six inches below the surface of sandy soil about 20 feet from the lake shore.”
Detectives investigating then declared Gifford’s death a homicide but, at the time, her remains were still unidentified, New Jersey State Police said. A break in the case came after Gifford’s half-brother, William Shin, “remembered having a sister when he was a child” and reached out to the San Francisco Police Department, telling authorities that his family had not seen or heard from her since 1976, when she was 14 years old.
A missing persons report was filed in 2017, according to the Chronicle. During the course of the investigation, authorities with the San Francisco Police Department found that Gifford had a paternal aunt, named Ogee Gifford, who lived in Southampton, New Jersey. Detectives met with Ogee Gifford in June and obtained a sample of her DNA; they were also shown a photo of Judy Gifford which shows her wearing an owl pendant hanging from a gold chain — a necklace identical to the jewelry that Jane Doe No. 40 was found with, according to authorities.
It was after finding a connection between the Giffords’ DNA samples — and tying the jewelry in the photograph with the details regarding the 1976 missing persons case — that authorities were able to conclude that Judy Gifford and the girl whose remains were discovered in 1976 were one and the same.
The California Department of Justice announced Judy Gifford’s identity on November 14; within days, on November 22, detectives informed Ogee Gifford of the news, according to police, who say that she kept the same phone number ever since her niece’s disappearance in case Judy ever called.
Gifford, 87, confirmed to the Chronicle that she’d been in contact with a detective, and said that she was glad that police had identified her niece’s remains.
Further details regarding Judy Gifford’s death, including whether or not her disappearance was reported by her loved ones any earlier than 2017, remain unclear. The San Francisco Police Department are still actively investigating the murder, New Jersey police confirmed last week.
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