Kids stumbled upon her skull in 1983. Thanks to a Facebook post, she’s finally been identified

A Facebook post helped investigators crack the case decades later

Amelia Neath
Monday 17 June 2024 18:55 BST
Maritza Gean Grimmett, 20, was identified as the person whose remains were found in 1983
Maritza Gean Grimmett, 20, was identified as the person whose remains were found in 1983 (Orange County Sheriff’s Department )

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A ‘Jane Doe’ homicide victim whose identity remained a mystery for over 40 years after kids playing together stumbled upon her skull in the 1980s has finally been given a name.

The saga began in 1979, when Maritza Gean Grimmett — who was born in Panama but moved to the US with her Marine husband — told her family that she was getting a divorce and heading to California. She was never seen or heard from again.

But now, California authorities have confirmed that remains discovered by schoolchildren in what is now the city of Lake Forest belong to her, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

The kids found Grimmett’s skull as they were playing in a Lake Forest culvert back in April 1983, an eerie discovery that kicked off an excavation in the area, where authorities ultimately found around 70 percent of a woman’s remains.

Maritza Gean Grimmett was 20 years old at the time of her disappearance
Maritza Gean Grimmett was 20 years old at the time of her disappearance (Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

Authorities tried to identify the woman but were only able to describe her as a black or mixed-race woman, around 18 to 24 years old, 5 foot 3 to 5 foot 6, with a slight build and a distinctive gold tooth. Her identity remained a mystery for decades.

But in 2022, investigators made a breakthrough in the case when a DNA sample from Jane Doe was submitted to Othram Laboratories in cooperation with the National Missing and Unidentified Person System, which provides funding for DNA extraction and testing.

A rendering of Grimmett in 2019
A rendering of Grimmett in 2019 (Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

After the sample was tested, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Cold Case investigators were able to create a genetic profile for Jane Doe, but they hit another dead end when they failed to establish a direct family line.

In late 2023, investigators posted forensic renderings of her on a Facebook group for Jane Does and missing women from the 1970s and 1980s.

After decades of investigation, it was that post that finally put an end to the mystery. Within a month, a woman contacted investigators to say she thought the Jane Doe could be her long-missing mother.

A rendering of Grimmett in 2022
A rendering of Grimmett in 2022 (Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

Relatives submitted DNA samples, and Jane Doe’s real identity as Maritza Gean Grimmett finally came to light.

Grimmett was from Panama and had married a US Marine in the summer of 1978 and gave birth to a daughter.

In late 1978, the family moved to the US, living in Ohio and Tennessee, until July 1979, when the couple began divorce proceedings.

At the time, Grimmett, who was just 20 years old, told her sister she was going to California but her family never heard from her again.

While the mystery of Jane Doe’s identity has been solved, the sheriff’s department still has more work to do as they investigate how Grimmett was killed.

Anyone with information on the 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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