O.C. investigators identify possible homicide victim whose remains were found 41 years ago

A possible homicide victim whose remains were found in a culvert 41 years ago has been identified by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

DNA testing ultimately helped sheriff's investigators to identify the woman as Maritza Glean Grimmett, who was 20 years old at the time of her disappearance.

Orange County Sheriff's Sgt. Frank Gonzalez said it took an "incredible amount of patience for our investigators to work a complex case like this."

"They do it for the family's closure — that's what kept them going in this particular case," Gonzalez said. "It's been a mystery since 1983 when the family last talked to her. They have expressed nothing but gratitude to our investigators."

Grimmett's remains were discovered in 1983 when children playing in a culvert near the area of Canada and Old Trabuco roads in Lake Forest stumbled upon a human skull, authorities said. An excavation uncovered roughly 70% of a female’s remains.

Although the official cause of death was listed as undetermined, a homicide is suspected, according to the sheriff's department.

An anthropology examination showed the victim was a Black or mixed-race female, 18-24 years old, 5 foot 3 to 5 foot 6 with a slight build, and a distinctive gold tooth. Efforts to identify the victim over the years were unsuccessful.

In 1978, Grimmett, a Panamanian native, married a U.S. Marine, moved to the United States and had a daughter, according to the sheriff's department. The next year, the couple began divorce proceedings and Grimmett told her sister she was moving to California. Her family never heard from her again, the sheriff's department said in a release.

In 2022, a DNA sample from the victim was sent to a laboratory and a genetic profile was obtained with the help of the National Missing and Unidentified Person System, which provided the funding for the DNA extraction and testing. A direct family line for the Jane Doe was unable to be established and multiple forensic renderings of the woman were released over the years.

In late 2023, investigators contacted a distant genetic relative of the victim, who suggested Jane Doe’s forensic renderings be posted to a Facebook group for Jane Does and missing women from the 1970s and 1980s, according to the sheriff's department.

Approximately one month after the posting, a woman contacted investigators and said she believed the Lake Forest Jane Doe could be her missing mother. Grimmett's relatives submitted DNA samples and the sheriff's department was finally able to identify her this year.

Investigators continue to investigate Grimmett's case. Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact Investigator Bob Taft at (714) 647-7045 or coldcase@ocsheriff.gov. Anonymous tips may be submitted to OC Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS ([855] 847-6227) or at occrimestoppers.org.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.