Christine Marie Salley was matched with the genetic profile of an unknown 1980s mur*der victim after uploading her DNA to GEDmatch.
An archaeologist in Ludlow, California, discovered a shallow grave in the vast Mojave Desert in November 1980. It held the naked bodies of a man and a woman who had been beaten and then shot to death, but a lack of identification at the scene had left their mur*ders unsolved for decades — until now.
When a Virginia woman uploaded her DNA to a genetic testing site in order to find her biological mother, the 40-year-old cold case was finally solved. Her DNA was then compared to that of an unidentified woman discovered in the desert.
Christine Marie Salley started searching for her biological parents in 2018. The Virginia native had always suspected she was adopted, so she hired a private investigator that year.
The investigator discovered adoption paperwork that identified Salley’s biological mother as Pamela Dianne Duffey, according to ABC News.
When the investigator uploaded Salley’s DNA to GEDmatch in December 2020, the site suggested that Salley and an unidentified DNA sample uploaded by authorities on the case of the Ludlow, California, woman had a parent-child relationship.
Pamela Dianne Duffey, Salley’s mother, appeared to be the woman in question.
Duffey and Lane were buried in the desert near Ludlow, California, off Highway 66.
When San Bernardino County investigators learned of the successful DNA match, they realized their 40-year cold case might finally be over.
As a result, Salley provided San Bernardino investigators with what she believed to be her mother’s name as well as another DNA sample, which the California Department of Justice only this month positively matched to Duffey. Duffey was about 21 years old when she was kil*led, according to the records.
Salley, on the other hand, was able to assist in identifying the unknown male victim.
Her biological mother had been friends with a man named “Digger Lane” before she vanished, she remembered. Salley also knew Lane was a Virginia prisoner who had planned a cross-country hitchhike with her mother after completing his sentence.
While that nickname did not appear in any records, investigators did come across a William Everette Lane with similar credentials and a Jacksonville, Florida, address.
His relatives were eventually located, and they voluntarily provided authorities with DNA samples that matched those of the desert mur*derer. Lane’s age at the time of his death was later determined to be around 20.
All that remained was for investigators to identify the mur*derer. They had a suspect in mind, as it turned out.
Salley’s investigator located her mother using the online DNA testing service GEDmatch.
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office had long suspected that a now-68-year-old convict named Howard Neal was the perpetrator, in part because he had been in the same area where Duffey and Lane were ki*lled — and then moved to Mississippi.
Neal has been imprisoned since 1982 after being convicted of raping and then mur*dering his 13-year-old niece and her 12-year-old friend, as well as his own brother.
Neal was sentenced to death for those crimes at first, but an IQ test revealed that he was mentally challenged, so his sentence was reduced to three life terms in prison.
Investigators were able to speak with Neal about the Ludlow mu*rders in 2017, during which the perpetrator stated that he picked up the couple while they were hitchhiking on a freeway.
Sheriff’s Office in San Bernardino.
Howard Neal has been in prison since 1982 for the mur*ders of his brother, niece, and a friend of hers.
He then brought the two to his home, where investigators in San Bernardino say he “became involved in an argument with the male” and “felt the male would probably ki*ll him if he did not k*ill him first.”
Tragically, Neal also revealed that the woman he kil*led that day had a daughter, reinforcing the theory that she was Salley’s mother, Duffey. Investigators believe Neal shot Lane first and then raped Duffey before ki*lling both of them.
The young couple was then taken to a remote section of the Mojave Desert off Highway 66 and disappeared for nearly 50 years.
The sheriff’s department stated that the remains of Duffey and Lane are being returned to their respective families.