Did a woman fall to her death off a cliff or was she murdered?
When a coroner is called to the scene of an unexplained death, it is his job to identify who the “John and Jane Does” are and how they died. This is a story about the unheralded heroes of law enforcement.
On the morning of October 5, 1983, two lifeguards discovered the body of a young boy. He was floating in a channel near the ocean at Seal Beach, California. According to the lifeguards, the body was so badly decomposed, that it made identification impossible.
Coroner’s investigator, Joe Luckey, was sent to the scene. He found no evidence of foul play. In fact, an autopsy later revealed that the young boy had drowned. But who the boy was and where he came from posed a baffling mystery:
Joe sent a description of the boy to every law enforcement agency in the area. Only one possible match turned up. It was of a boy who had disappeared from Fullerton, California. Fullerton was sixteen miles from where the body was discovered, but Joe still met with the boy’s parents. They told him that their son had vanished shortly after leaving for a neighborhood park. Joe searched the park for any possible clues:
Tragically, the young boy had fallen into the flood channel and was swept sixteen miles to Seal Beach. Blood samples later provided a positive identification. The mystery had been solved.
Cullen Ellingburgh was a coroner in Orange County at the time of the boy’s disappearance:
Cullen Ellingburgh has worked on literally thousands of cases. Some take months of painstaking research and legwork. Others are solved solely on the basis of one small piece of evidence. One case, in particular, has haunted Cullen Ellingburgh since May 18, 1987. That morning, the body of a woman in her early 20s, was found at the bottom of a steep cliff in Southern California. According to Ellingburgh, the woman had apparently fallen to her death sometime during the night:
Strangely, there was nothing else in her purse. But the map led Cullen to the last person who saw her alive:
When Cullen interviewed the cab driver, he described a woman who fit the Dana Point “Jane Doe.” She had wanted to go to Laguna Beach, but didn’t have enough cash. According to Cullen, the cab driver agreed to take her as far as the money would go:
The next morning, the young woman’s body was found at the base of the cliff. She was 5’8” tall and weighed 127 pounds. She had light brown hair, brown eyes, and was wearing what appeared to be second-hand clothing, including a pair of men’s underwear.
For Cullen Ellingburgh, the case of the unidentified Jane Doe has never left him:
Update: After remaining a mystery for 26 years, this case has finally been solved. The remains have been positively identified, thanks to DNA testing, as those of Holly Jo Glynn. Holly was 21 years old when she died. Her death was ruled a suicide.