SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Police in San Francisco announced Thursday evening that the department’s Homicide Cold Case Unit and the SFPD Missing Persons Unit have identified the previously unknown 14-year-old female victim in a 1976 cold case homicide.
In early 2019 the two units conducted a joint investigation into the death of Jane Doe #40, whose body was found in San Francisco in 1976 and was eventually determined to be the victim of a homicide.
On Thursday, police announced the identity of the victim as a 14-year-old New Jersey girl named Judy Gifford.
According to New Jersey State Police, on October 1, 1976, a man walking his dog discovered a body when he spotted a hand protruding from the sand behind a pumping station at Lake Merced in San Francisco.
Detectives later determined that the victim was a young Asian female whose remains were found with distinctive jewelry, including a gold chain and owl pendant necklace, which were found in her pocket. Her death was ruled a homicide, and her remains were unidentified for the past 43 years.
After combing through missing persons’ cases, police investigators located a missing person report made in 2017 by Gifford’s half-brother William Shin regarding her disappearance. She was believed to have disappeared from San Francisco in the same time frame as the 1976 homicide.
Shin rallied his family to revive the search for Judy.
“They always knew they had a sister,” said detective Jeffrey Greco of the New Jersey state police. “They never knew what happened to her.”
New Jersey state police worked together with San Francisco police. They collected DNA from Judy’s aunt Ogee Gifford who also had a photograph that helped break the case.
“The necklace she was wearing at the time had an oval shape,” said Lt. Greco. “It was an owl locket type thing and that was found on the body out in San Francisco when they recovered her. And it was on the picture, the 8th grade picture that Ogee had given us.”
The California Department of Justice Missing Persons Laboratory compared the familial DNA obtained from Gifford’s relatives with the remains of Jane Doe #40 and confirmed the familial relationship.
San Francisco police said that although the missing person case is closed, the homicide case remains open.
Ogee Gifford, now 86, said she never changed her phone number in case her niece came calling. She told KPIX that she is relieved Judy’s body has been identified.
“I always wondered what happened to her. My mind is finally at peace. God rest her soul,” she said.
In the press release announcing the identity of the victim, the San Francisco police department thanked the New Jersey state police and Anne Arundel County police department for their assistance.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance or death of Judy Gifford is asked to call the SFPD 24 Hour Tip Line at 1-415-575-4444 or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD. Tipsters may remain anonymous.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten. KPIX 5’s Joe Vazquez contributed to this report