Recent News Articles

Skeletal Remains Found in Plastic Bag in the 1980s Identified as Woman Who Was Born in 1864

31 May 2024 3:01 PM | Anonymous

The skeletal bones discovered in a plastic bag in California in 1985 have been positively identified as belonging to a lady who was born during the American Civil War and died more than a century ago. This identification was made by a laboratory that collaborates with law enforcement agencies to solve unsolved crimes around the United States. 

In October 1985, a plastic bag containing partial skeleton remains was discovered near Channel Islands Harbor, located just west of Los Angeles. This information was provided by Othram, a laboratory that specializes in forensic genetic genealogy, in a news release. At that time, it was ascertained that the bones belonged to a female individual who had been in the age range of 35 to 50 at the time of her death. However, no other details were accessible. The case was investigated by officers from the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. 

The case remained unsolved for several decades. In 2016, data on the case was inputted into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and a facial reconstruction was created using clay. Othram stated that despite the "extensive efforts" undertaken by law enforcement, no matches were found when a publicly published photo of the reconstruction was used to generate new leads. 

In May 2023, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office-Cold Case Unit collaborated with the county medical examiner's office to send the forensic evidence from the case to Othram. The laboratory located in Texas utilizes DNA evidence and various forms of analysis, such as forensic genetic genealogy, to assist in the identification of remains, including those discovered in this particular case. 

Othram scientists have successfully created a DNA extract and performed forensic-grade genome sequencing. This advanced technique allows for the creation of a comprehensive profile using only a little DNA sample. Using the DNA profile, the company's genetic genealogy team initiated thorough research, resulting in the discovery of fresh leads. 

Investigators established contact with probable relatives and then obtained a reference sample of DNA from a potential family member. The DNA sample enabled law enforcement to conclusively determine that the remains belonged to Gertrude Elliott-Littlehale, a person born in 1864 and deceased in 1915. 

Othram said that Elliott-Littlehale's burial site had been desecrated and her grave had been looted. The company did not provide a specific timeframe for when the grave was desecrated, but they mentioned that the skull had been removed and the resting place had been substantially disturbed. According to the United Nations' Environment Programme, plastic bags similar to the ones found with Elliott-Littlehale's remains were initially introduced in the 1960s and 70s, and then became widespread in the 80s. 


  • 2 Jun 2024 4:49 PM | Anonymous
    " Channel Islands Harbor, located just west of Los Angeles"

    Minor detail. Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, Ventura County, CA, is 60 miles or so west of Los Angeles. Hardly 'just west'.
    Link  •  Reply

Blog posts

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software