Bones found in California desert tied to 1946 murder

LOS ANGELES Fri Aug 5, 2011 9:03pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The skeletal remains of a young woman murdered 65 years ago and left in the California desert have been identified through DNA analysis, authorities said on Friday.

The bones, found scattered near Baker, California, were confirmed as those of Betty Walraven, who was killed in May of 1946, San Bernardino County Coroner's spokeswoman Sandy Fatland said.

Walraven's great-nephew, Shawne Walraven, said the 25-year-old woman's remains had been unidentified since 1971, when a man hunting for fossils came across a human skull and reported his find to San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies.

Authorities had long sought to tie them to Walraven's murder, Fatland said.

Shawne Walraven told Reuters that a man convicted in an unrelated murder confessed in the 1950s that a female companion had shot his great-aunt in the back of the head.

He said the suspect, who served time on California's death row in San Quentin State Prison, also told police that he helped the woman dispose of Betty Walraven's body in the desert.

But the case languished unsolved until 2005, when a San Bernardino County Coroner's investigator seeking to close the long-cold case sought DNA samples from family members, Shawne Walraven said.

It took six years and improvements in DNA technology for the California Department of Justice laboratory to match the samples.

"It's an amazing story," he said. "When you sit down and hear it from beginning to end, it reads like a good novel that just ends without telling you what happened -- or why it happened anyway."

Shawne Walraven said detectives still don't know why his great aunt was murdered more than 60 years ago, although he speculates the crime could center on a $10,000 war bond that Betty Walraven's brother says she stole from their parents before disappearing from Texas in 1942.

He said Betty Walraven, who was reported missing by her family the following year, may also have been involved in an extramarital affair while her husband was serving overseas during World War Two.

"She doesn't seem like the most upright of citizens," Shawne Walraven said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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