police looked into links between jane doe #59 and other unsolved 1969 murders

April 28, 2016 04:15 PM

On the afternoon of November 16, 1969, a birdwatcher spotted the body of a young woman tangled in dense brush off L.A.’s scenic Mulholland Drive.

The victim, who had no identification on her, had been stabbed in the neck 150 times in what police believe was a “rage” killing. “It was personal,” says LAPD cold case detective Luis Rivera. “There was a lot of outrage behind it. It was a maniac or love gone wrong.”

News of her death spread. A caretaker at Spahn Ranch, the notorious Manson Family hangout, told police that the victim, who became known as Jane Doe #59, looked like a hippie named Sherry from Simi Valley who hung out at the ranch. But investigators didn’t get anywhere with that lead, and subsequently, the mystery of her identity deepened.

A caretaker said she saw the victim at Spahn Ranch, a notorious hangout of the Manson Family
Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

According to former Manson Family prosecutor Stephen Kay, “Manson confessed to his cellmate they killed 35 people and we prosecuted 9 murders, so that leaves 26 [victims unaccounted for].”

Kay adds that authorities “didn’t have any evidence” of other Manson family victims.

The Mystery of Jane Doe #59

In his 1974 book Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi suggested that Jane Doe #59 may have been present at the death of suspected Manson family victim John “Zero” Haught. Bugliosi writes she might have been “killed so she wouldn’t talk.” (Haught, whose death was reportedly declared a suicide, died of a gunshot wound to the head on November 5, 1969. Manson family members were reportedly present when the shooting occurred.)

Another avenue police explored at the time was whether Jane Doe #59’s murder was linked to the slayings of James Sharp, 15, and 19-year-old Doreen Gaul. The young Scientologists were found brutally stabbed and beaten in an alley about a half-mile from a “hippie like cult commune which Gaul had left Friday evening for a Scientology session with Sharp,” according to a Los Angeles Times article at the time.

LAPD detectives were reportedly trying to determine if Jane Doe #59 was also a member of the Church of Scientology.

For much more on Jane Doe #59 and the search for other possible victims of the notorious Manson Family, pickup this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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LAPD detective Lt. Earl A. Deemer told the Times he believed both Gaul and Jane Doe #59 were recent arrivals to Los Angeles and wore similar hippie-like attire. Gaul had reportedly moved to Los Angeles six months earlier from Albany, NY. Because there were no traces of smog in the lungs of Jane Doe #59, the coroner determined she hadn’t been in Los Angeles for a long time.

The wounds on Gaul, Sharpe and Jane Doe #59, looked like the work of a “fanatic,” Deemer told the paper.

At the time, the LAPD also asked the California Attorney General’s office to provide reports of all murders that were similar to the slayings of Tate, her friends and the murders of grocery owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on December 5, 1969, the state Attorney General’s office gave detectives a list of 30 unsolved murders since 1968. Included on the list were reportedly the murders of Sharp and Gaul, the stabbing deaths of two San Jose teenagers, and the January 1, 1969 murder of 17-year-old Marina Habe, who was abducted outside her West Hollywood home.

Habe’s body was found at the bottom of a ravine off Mulholland Drive, less than a half mile from where Jane Doe #59 was discovered. Habe, like Jane Doe #59, reportedly had multiple stab wounds to the neck.

“Detectives speculated that the Manson family could be behind it,” LAPD Detective Cliff Shepard, speaking of Habe’s murder, tells PEOPLE.

The murders of Gaul, Sharp and Habe are still unsolved.

A Break in the Case

Jane Doe #59’s case went cold for more than four decades. In 2003, Shepard reopened the case after he discovered her file and a bloody bra while searching through boxes of cold case files. Shepard sent the bra for testing to a state lab where it was uploaded into a missing person database.

Because Jane Doe #59 was wearing a blue corduroy coat made in Canada, Shepard reached out to Canadian authorities in the hopes of identifying her, but the Canadian police didn’t have a missing person report that fit her description.

The break came last June when a friend of the victim searching the Internet saw her post-mortem photograph and called the victim’s sister, who then contacted law enforcement. DNA taken from her bloody bra matched her sister’s, and she was positively identified as 19-year-old Reet Jurvetson.

‘My Parents Never Thought to Report Reet Missing’

Jurvetson, who grew up in Montreal, was the youngest daughter of Estonia natives who fled the country in 1944 during World War II. Described by her sister Anne in a family statement as “very artistic,” she grew up singing in a youth choir and sewing her own clothes. After graduating from high school, she moved to Toronto to live with her grandmother and found work at the post office.

Courtesy Luis Rivera
Reet Jurvetson

Police learned that Reet flew to L.A. in the summer of 1969 to visit a man named John, or Jean the French pronunciation, whom she had met in a coffee shop. “She was smitten by him,” says Rivera. After she arrived in Los Angeles, she sent her family a postcard to let them know she was happy and that she had a nice apartment.

“In 1969 there was a lot of peace, love and flower children,” says Shepard. “L.A. was the place to go for young people.”

But, after the postcard, her family never heard from her again. “As incredible as it seems, my parents never thought to report Reet missing to the police,” her sister Anne wrote in the statement. “They thought that she was just living her life somewhere and that eventually news from her would turn up.”

“Although our family continuously hoped that one day Reet would return home, I eventually came to the conclusion that she had probably passed away,” Anne wrote in the statement.

“It is such a sad, helpless kind of feeling to always question, to never know, to imagine scenarios, all the while still hoping and dreaming that one day there would be an answer. I can hardly grasp how she could have been stabbed over 150 times. It is devastating. I try to draw comfort from the coroner’s report that at least she was not raped, nor were there traces of drugs or alcohol in her system. Her body and inner organs were ‘unremarkable’ and she had obviously taken good care of herself. Nevertheless, I am horrified to think of how terribly frightened and alone she must have felt as she died.”

‘We Can’t Rule Out that the Manson Family Was Involved’

In October, Rivera and his detective partner Veronica Conrado interviewed Charles Manson at Corcoran State Prison in October to see if he recognized the dead woman. “No new leads were learned,” he says. But, he says, “We can’t rule out that the Manson Family was involved.”

In March, they flew to Canada to speak to Reet’s family to get more clues about where she was staying in Los Angeles and about the mysterious John, or Jean.

“He is the best lead we have,” says Rivera, adding: “No one deserves what happened to her. It’s our job to find out who’s responsible and bring them to justice.”

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