UNCLAIMED BODY: It looked like “Jane Doe,” true-life subject of Sue Grafton’s novel Q Is for Quarry, was about to be identified 42 years after her body was found. Jane Doe, whoever she is, was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave at Lompoc Cemetery in 1969, her murder unsolved, her identity unknown. But a few months ago, a tip suggested that she might be a California girl who disappeared about the time Jane Doe’s body, covered with brutal stab wounds, was discovered by hunters on a lonely road near Lompoc.
A Northern California woman reading Q Is for Quarry came upon Santa Barbaran Grafton’s detailed explanation of how she got involved in the case. The woman, recalling how her close high school friend had vanished about that time, got word to Santa Barbara Sheriff’s detectives. The photo of a forensic reconstruction of Jane Doe’s face, printed at the end of the novel, looked a lot like her friend, she thought. Sheriff’s investigators swung into action. Grafton was alerted.
Could she be Jane Doe? “I was pretty excited about it,” retired Sheriff’s detective sergeant Bill Turner told me. But it turned out that the woman’s high school friend had just decided to take off, as so many young people were doing back in the 1960s, only to return home a couple of years later, Turner said. The tipster woman had moved and wasn’t aware that her friend was no longer among the missing. Turner, like other investigators, past and present, have never given up on their quest to identify the slain girl and try to bring closure to her family. With Q Is for Quarry still finding readers, “I still keep my fingers crossed” for a break, he said.
Grafton’s interest began by chance in the fall of 2000, while at a dinner party at the home of friends. Grafton was searching for a plot for her next alphabet series book, Q. During the dinner chat about that, Dr. Robert Failing, a retired forensic pathologist who’d done the autopsy on Jane Doe, mentioned the case and how the girl, aged somewhere in her mid to late teens or perhaps a few years older, had protruding “buck teeth” and 19 fairly recently filled cavities. That, Dr. Failing thought, should have sparked public attention. But there were no reports of a missing person fitting the description.