Decades-Long Mystery Solved: 2001 Redondo Beach Jane Doe Identified as Catherine Parker Johnson
Catherine was last heard from in 1981, and it is unknown if she was reported missing
On August 21, 2001, construction workers and property developers in Redondo Beach, California, made a discovery that would shut down operations for the foreseeable future. The discovery was so gruesome and troubling that it would go on to haunt investigators for several decades. It was only thanks to genetic genealogy and the kindness of strangers that this case was finally unraveled.
On August 21, construction workers working on the site of 1600 Wollacott Street in Redondo Beach were digging in the backyard of a private residence when they made a chilling discovery. Wrapped inside a plastic bag was a headless skeleton. Operations immediately ceased, and the Redondo Beach Police Department was summoned to the scene.
As the remains were skeletonized and without a head, investigators knew they were faced with a near-impossible task. The medical examiner charged with investigating the case found it almost impossible to determine a cause of death. The estimated post-mortem index or ‘PMI’ was said to have been anywhere from one to twenty-six years, meaning the victim could have passed anywhere between 1974 and 2001.
It wasn’t until an anthropologist was called into the case that minimal headway was made. In their initial report, the anthropologists noted they believed the remains to belong to a white woman aged 20 to 50. No clothing or personal items were found with the skeleton, so it was hard to discern anything about the woman. Without a face or skull, investigators were also left unable to create an approximation sketch, significantly hindering their investigation.
Eventually, the case went cold and wouldn’t be picked up until 2019, when the Redondo Beach Police Department partnered with the DNA Doe Project, which mainly relies on donations to fund their research. In 2019, the DNA Doe Project began examining the Redondo Beach Jane Doe’s DNA further and made a vital discovery. She was determined to be of Sub-Saharan African descent, not Caucasian descent, as previously noted in 2001.