Police identify Mojave desert murder victims from 1980 cold case and link deaths to man in prison for other killings

Maroosha Muzaffar
·4-min read
<h5>Search for biological mother leads to bodies buried in San Bernardino County desert and link to Mississippi killer</h5> (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images. File. )
Search for biological mother leads to bodies buried in San Bernardino County desert and link to Mississippi killer
(Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images. File. )

Police have finally identified the victims of murders that took place in the Mojave desert in 1980 and the investigation has led to an already incarcerated man in a Mississippi prison.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that they have finally identified the two victims found in the desert in Southern California.

In a statement on Wednesday, the officials identified Pamela Dianne Duffey, born in 1959, and William Everette Lane, who was born in 1960. Duffey and Lane were earlier known as Jane Doe 10 and John Doe 29.

The two were 20 and 19 at the time of their death, Jodi Miller, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department said.

Both Duffey and Lane had been in the desert grave for about six to eight months before they were found, according to the San Bernardino County coroner’s office. The two victims were found without any clothes or any identifying objects on them.

After an autopsy was performed on the two, it was found that they died of a combination of gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma. The police said that any attempts to identify them were unsuccessful.

This is one of the oldest cold cases the Sheriff’s Department has had to deal with, says Gerrit Tesselaar, the San Bernardino sheriff’s investigator.

The 40-year search for the identity of the Mojave desert murder victims finally came to an end after a Virginia woman — who had decided to find her biological parents in 2018 — found her DNA matched that of Duffey.

Christine Marie Salley had hired a private investigator in 2018 to help her find her biological parents, since she was adopted as a child.

In December of that year the investigator had submitted her DNA to GEDmatch DNA and found a child/parent match between herself and Duffey. Earlier this month, the California Department of Justice confirmed the match.

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Ms Salley had shared her adoption papers with the officials and additional DNA samples as well. However, Mr Tesselaar said that the DNA match was not considered positive in the eyes of the law and that the official results from the state Department of Justice were delayed due to the pandemic.

Ms Salley, the police said, knew that her mother had travelled with someone named Digger Lane who was an inmate at a Virginia prison and was released in either 1979 or 1980. The Virginia State Police were able to identify William Everett Lane from DNA samples from his mother in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Both Duffey and Lane, police confirmed, were victims of a murderer named Howard Neal, 68, of Mississippi, who is currently incarcerated in the state prison for the rape and murder of his 13-year old niece and her 12-year old friend as well as the murder of his brother.

Before the identification of the two Mojave murder victims, the sheriff’s investigators knew that Mr Neal had previously lived in Ludlow and moved to Mississippi shortly after the killings.

During an interview, Neal had told the police about picking up a hitchhiker woman and a man he called ‘hippie’.

He shot the man after he tried to make advances towards the woman, Duffey.

Police said Neal then went on to sexually assault the woman and then killed her. He then took them to a remote and isolated part of the desert and buried them there.

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The sheriff’s department said that Neal was “initially sentenced to death in 1982; however, his lawyer filed an appeal based on Neal’s mental status in 1990 and his death sentence was commuted after he was found to be borderline mentally challenged after an IQ test.”

Neal is serving three life sentences currently.

Meanwhile, police say that the victims’ shall be returned to their families for proper burials. Mr Tesselaar said that both victims’ families want the remains to be cremated.