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Edgewater man helps identify Jane Doe in 52-year-old California cold case

Anita Louise Piteau
Anita Louise Piteau (Courtesy Photo)

Steve Sabo was not expecting to see the Orange County District Attorney’s Office pop up on his caller ID in June. Not many people in Edgewater are.

“It was just out of the blue. It was kind of weird,” Sabo said. “I’m wondering, ‘What the heck did I do?‘”

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Sabo didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, his conversation with California investigators gave them the final clues they needed to identify the victim in Orange County’s oldest unsolved homicide.

On March 14, 1968, three boys playing in a large farm field in Huntington Beach came across the body of a woman who had been sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. Her body sat in an unmarked grave for 52 years waiting to be identified.

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Steve Sabo, the Edgewater man who helped identify a Jane Doe in California after 52 years
Steve Sabo, the Edgewater man who helped identify a Jane Doe in California after 52 years (Courtesy Photo)

Thanks to Sabo’s amateur genealogy work in June, she is no longer Jane Doe. She was Anita Louise Piteau, 26, of Augusta, Maine.

After hours of talking with Identifinders International genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, Sabo poured over the family history he’d been building on Ancestry.com, where he also sent DNA samples five years ago hoping to connect with distant cousins in Canada. In his digging, he found an obituary of a relative mentioning a sister that went to California and never returned.

And that was it.

“I knew once I found that obituary and gave that to them, it was like an OMG moment,” Sabo said.

If he hadn’t found the obituary, Fitzpatrick said it would have taken her team a lot longer to find out who Jane Doe was.

“He’s a hero. He saved us. We’d still be working on it now,” she said.

“It’s almost like walking to a shopping center and someone says ‘someone at the shopping center has a gold coin in their pocket’ and you look around and point to somebody and you’ve got it right.”

Investigators from the Huntington Beach Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s office took Piteau’s remains home to her family in Maine and attended her memorial service last weekend. It was there Sabo was able to connect to his distant relatives, who are still mourning Piteau’s loss.

As it turns out, Sabo is more connected to the family than he realized.

Piteau’s sister, Anne, lives in the same town as Sabo’s sister in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and neither had any idea. She even worked at the same nursing home Sabo’s mother was in before she died in 2013.

“It was just kind of weird,” Sabo said. “You don’t know how close you are to somebody else. You could be standing next to somebody and not realize you have a connection somewhere somehow.”

Earle Robitaille, Huntington Beach Detective Bureau commander in 1968, said he feels relief for the family and for all the detectives who contributed to the case over the years.

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“It’s not a happy ending, but at least they know. They’ve got some closure,” he said.

Robitaille said he taught every detective he brought into the bureau back then to have “bulldog tenacity.”

“You never give up ever ever ever. You never give in,” Robitaille said. “That’s evidently carried on.”

Detectives know who killed Piteau, but the case is not entirely closed.

DNA from a smoked cigarette butt found near her body along with what was found on her clothes and in her sexual assault kit was linked in 2019 to Johnny Chrisco. He died in 2015 of cancer and is buried in Washington State. But detectives are still trying to determine how Piteau and Chrisco knew each other.

Sunny Martens, who was 10-years-old when he found Piteau’s body with his friends, said he’s relieved for her family but is disappointed Chrisco died without being held accountable for her murder.

“We always kept tabs on them and were wondering,” Martens said. “It was always such a tragic thing not knowing who it was. ... I’d really love to know what happened myself.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Huntington Beach Police Tip Line at 714-375-5066.

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