Authorities have finally identified the bodies of two homicide victims who were found buried in the Southern California desert in 1980 and linked to a man imprisoned for murder in Mississippi, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
A chain of events that began with a woman using DNA to try to find her biological parents led to the identification of the victims as Pamela Dianne Duffey, born in 1959, and William Everette Lane, born in 1960, a department statement said Wednesday.
An archeologist found the bodies in a shallow grave in a remote area of the Mojave Desert a few miles east of the tiny community of Ludlow. They were unclothed, had no IDs and had died from a combination of gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma.
Coroner's investigators estimated they had been in the grave for six to eight months. Efforts over the years to find out their identities were unsuccessful.
Investigators, meanwhile, identified a person of interest, Howard Neal, a Ludlow resident who left after the killings and went to Mississippi, where he was accused of killing his brother and raping and killing his 13-year-old niece and another girl in 1981.
Online records show he was sentenced to death for the murder of his niece.
The Sheriff's Department said testing later showed his IQ was low enough to indicate he was borderline mentally challenged, and an appeal led to him being resentenced to life terms which Neal, 68, is now serving.
The attorney handling Neal’s trial and appeals refused to let the California investigators interview him but informed them they did not have to look any further for a suspect in the Ludlow killings, the department said.
Investigators finally interviewed Neal in 2017. The department said he told them he picked up the couple while they were hitchhiking, took them to his home and shot the male victim during an argument over Neal’s physical advances toward the woman.
“Investigators believe Neal sexually assaulted her then killed her,” the department statement said.
In the interview, Neal said he believed the woman may have been from Arkansas and left a daughter behind to hitchhike across the country. He did not remember anything about the man other than that he looked like a “hippie.”
In 2018, a Virginia resident and adoptee, Christine Marie Salley, hired a private investigator to find her biological parents.
Last December, the investigator submitted Salley’s DNA to GEDmatch, an online service that searches for matches among DNA files from multiple sources. It indicated a parent-child relationship between a Ludlow victim and Salley, the department said.
Sheriff’s detectives contacted Salley, who gave them adoption paperwork obtained by the private investigator that identified her biological mother as Pamela Dianne Duffey.
A new DNA sample from Salley and the female Ludlow victim’s DNA were sent to the California Department of Justice, which confirmed the match and the positive identification of Duffey this month, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Salley also told the investigators she had learned that her mother had been associated with a man only known as “Digger Lane,” and her mother planned to meet up with him when he was released from a Virginia prison in late 1979 or early 1980 and travel across the country.
Records searches pointed to William Everette Lane, who had listed a home address in Jacksonville, Florida. Investigators used the address to find family members, including Lane’s biological mother. Again, DNA samples led to confirmation he was the male Ludlow victim.
The Sheriff's Department said the process of returning the victims' remains to their families had begun.