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Woman Researching Family Tree Discovers Biological Mom Was Cold Case Murder Victim

Pamela Duffey and William Everette Lane’s remains were positively identified this month 40 years after they were found buried in the California desert, thanks to the research efforts of Duffey's daughter Christine Salley, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. 

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A Virginia woman searching for her biological mother assisted detectives in solving a 40-year-old cold case slaying.

Christine Salley “always knew she had been adopted,” according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. This month, Salley, 41, discovered her mother was positively identified as one of the victims of a mysterious double murder dating back decades, authorities said.

The remains of Salley’s mother, Pamela Duffey, were found by an archeologist in a “shallow grave” in the California desert in 1980. Her body was found alongside William Everette Lane. Autopsies revealed they’d been beaten and shot. Both victims were naked.

For decades, detectives were unable to identify Duffey and Lane. Their suspected killer, Howard Neal, lived in Ludlow, California, around the time of the murders but fled the state shortly afterward. He later murdered his brother and sexually assaulted and killed his 13-year-old niece and her friend in Mississippi, according to court documents. Neal eventually returned to California, but was extradited back to Mississippi to face murder charges in connection to the triple homicide. Neal stood trial in 1982. He was convicted, and sentenced to death.

Pamela Duffy William Lane San Bernardino Sheriff

Nearly a decade later, Neal’s death sentence was commuted to three life terms after he was found to be “mentally challenged,” due to a low IQ, according to law enforcement. Neal’s attorney reportedly blocked him from speaking with county investigators in California for years.

“Investigators in the Ludlow murders attempted to interview Neal, but each attempt to do so was denied by his attorney, who was representing him for the Mississippi murder trial and his appeals,” the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “His attorney informed investigators in California they did not have to look any further for a suspect in the Ludlow murders.” 

Howard Neal

In 2017, San Bernardino prosecutors and detectives traveled to Mississippi to question Neal — and see if he could help identify the victims of the Ludlow double murder. Neal, however, provided “very little information.” He claimed Duffey may have been from Arkansas and had a “deformed arm.” He told investigators she’d “left her young daughter behind before she left to hitchhike across the county.” Neal described Lane as a “hippie.”

The Mississippi man confessed to murdering Duffey and Lane at his home after he picked the two hitchhikers up on the freeway. He said he got into an “intense” argument with Lane at his residence after making “physical advances” on Duffey.

Neal, now 68, told detectives he believed Lane “would probably kill him if he did not kill him first,” according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office.  

Investigators suspect Neal fatally shot Lane and then sexually assaulted and killed Duffey.

Neal then buried Duffey and Lane in the desert near Highway 66.

As years went by, investigators had extracted DNA from the remains of Duffey and Lane, submitting samples to public and law enforcement databases in the hopes of identifying them. 

No matches surfaced until Salley began investigating her family tree. In 2018, the Virginia woman hired a private investigator to research her genealogy. In December 2020, a sample of Salley’s DNA was uploaded to the genealogical research portal GEDmatch. Detectives had previously uploaded Duffey’s genetic material to the site.

A match was ultimately returned, indicating “a parent/child relationship” between Salley and the Ludlow victim. She later told investigators her biological mother was Pamela Dianne Duffey. Adoption paperwork verified her claims, authorities said.

To further verify the genetic link, detectives collected an additional DNA sample from Salley and resubmitted it to a California Department of Justice forensics lab in Richmond. The results, returned this month, positively identified Duffey as the female murder victim in the Ludlow slayings. 

Salley later aided investigators in identifying Lane, as well. She told detectives she’d learned her mother was associated with a man known as “Digger Lane” around the time she vanished. Lane, who then had recently been released from prison, was planning a cross-country trip with her mother, she said. 

Virginia state authorities helped comb through police databases, ultimately matching arrest and incarceration records to William Everette Lane. Investigators later traced his home address to Jacksonville, Florida, and located a number of his relatives. DNA was also collected from Lane’s mother, which later matched the remains of the male victim found in Ludlow decades ago.

“The process of returning the Ludlow victim’s remains to their families for proper burials has begun,” the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office stated.  

A spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office wasn't immediately available for comment regarding the case on Thursday.

Anyone with additional information related to the case is encouraged to contact Sgt. Jonathan Woods or homicide investigators Steve Shumway and Gerrit Tesselaar of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office at 909-387-3589.

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