Woman’s Remains Identified Five Decades After She Went Missing

Police said a DNA match was made between a relative of Donna Lass, who was reported missing in 1971, and a human skull found in 1986



Donna Lass

On Wednesday, California authorities announced that human remains found 37 years ago are linked to a woman who was reported missing in 1971.

In its news release, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department (SLTPD) said a familial DNA match was made between a relative of the missing woman, Donna Lass, and the remains found in Placer County, California in 1986. 

“Investigators in Placer County notified SLTPD detectives after the DNA match was discovered last week,” per the release. “Investigators contacted Lass’ remaining family members and provided resources during the holidays. Efforts to reexamine the case and discover connections between the SLTPD case and Placer County case are underway.”

The SLTPD’s statement continued, “As technology develops, investigators routinely revisit cases which were previously believed to have no leads. Investigators from the SLTPD have been in contact with the Lass family, and we hope this development leads to closure after many years of searching.”

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According to a statement from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Lass was reported missing in 1971, and the case went unsolved after previous investigative leads were exhausted.

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The sheriff’s office added that a human skull was discovered off of Highway 20 near Interstate 80 in 1986.

“There was no additional evidence located at the time,” the statement read, “so the skull was preserved at our coroner’s office pending further advancements in forensic technology. The case was classified as an unidentified Jane Doe investigation.”

A cold case team was recently established by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and the Placer County District Attorney’s Office to help investigate unsolved missing persons and suspicious death cases. The team sent the skull to the California Department of Justice to identify it through DNA technology, said the sheriff’s office.

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“The California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services was able to match the DNA of the skull with the DNA from a member of Donna Lass’s family which was obtained by South Lake Tahoe Police Department for their missing persons case. This allowed them to identify the skull as the remains of Donna Lass,” the sheriff’s office said.

“We are extremely grateful that this team effort was able to bring closure to the Lass family and are hopeful that cold case detectives can continue to make advances in these cases,” the department added.

Lass, who was 25 at the time of her disappearance, worked as a nurse at the casino hotel Sahara-Tahoe, according to South Lake Tahoe Police Chief David Stevenson via NBC affiliate KCRA. “Obviously it was a long time ago, but families never forget,” he said. “It never gets old. It never goes away. They never heal. That unknown is very painful for them.”

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The South Lake Tahoe Police Department appealed to the public to contact them for information related to the case.

PEOPLE reached out to the Placer County District Attorney’s Office for comment. 

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