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Who Was Jane Doe?

True Life Subject of Sue Grafton’s Q Is for Quarry Still a Mystery


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.

Barney Brantingham

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.

Jane Doe”

Told that the body was found near a quarry and that her jawbones were still on file, “The idea took root,” Grafton wrote in her author’s note. Q Is for Quarry was born. She later met with detective Turner, then still on active duty, and Sheriff’s commander Bruce Correll; with the blessings of then-sheriff Jim Thomas, she was given a copy of “the murder book.” Wrote Grafton, “It contained case notes, investigative reports, and both color and black-and-white photographs of the body and the area where she was found.”

As Grafton’s interest rekindled the Sheriff’s Department’s interest in the cold case, there was talk of exhuming Jane Doe’s body. That led to “B Is for Budget.” Grafton volunteered to pay for that and a proper, dignified reburial. On July 17, 2001, a group that included Grafton, Turner, and numerous law-enforcement people watched as Jane Doe’s body was unearthed. The next step was to send her skull along with the jaw parts to Betty Gatliff, an internationally recognized forensic artist in Oklahoma. Grafton paid for that, too. Meanwhile, Grafton began a re-creation of her own, “constructing a wholly fictional account of a young girl whose fate was similar to Jane Doe’s.”

Although all names in the resulting book are fictional, people familiar with the case say it follows very closely the known facts. “So much of her narrative is true,” Turner said. “We were really excited to have her onboard with us. It was a great opportunity for us” to give the case such wide exposure and possibly yield clues.

By mid September 2001, Gatliff produced her reconstruction of what Jane Doe must have looked like. On February 26, 2002, with a Sheriff’s honor guard accompanying her body from the coroner’s office, a Sheriff’s chaplain conducted a reburial service at Lompoc Cemetery. There were flowers “and heartfelt prayers of those of us who have been a small part of her life,” Grafton wrote.

Someday, perhaps, someone will read the author’s note, reach for the phone, and the true story for Jane Doe will come to light.

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