More than 44 years after a 27-year-old woman mysteriously vanished in California, authorities have positively identified her “partial skeletal remains.”
The remains, including a skull, were discovered in 1986—nine years after she vanished—by a survey crew along an embankment of the Ortega Highway in Lake Elsinore, but at the time authorities were unable to positively identify the victim, who had been shot in the head, according to a statement from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
It wasn’t until the Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide Team exhumed several unidentified skeletal remains for DNA analysis earlier this year that investigators were finally able to provide some answers about what happened to 27-year-old Linda LeBeau, whose maiden name had been Durnall.
Investigators were able to positively identify the remains last week after a familial DNA match was discovered in the Department of Justice’s Missing Unidentified Persons database.
Linda disappeared in 1977 around the time she had been planning to meet her ex-husband, Phillip LeBeau, at a Love’s Restaurant to collect $300 from him after he had allegedly damaged her new boyfriend’s car, slashing his tires and pouring sugar into the gas tank, The Orange County Register reported in 2013.
That day, a witness reported seeing the 27-year-old inside her Volkswagen van arguing with an unidentified man at a nearby Texaco after the meeting. Linda was never seen again and her van was discovered abandoned at the entrance to the southbound I-5 three days later. All of her belongings had been left inside the vehicle.
Suspicion soon turned to Phillip—who died in 2008—particularly after investigators learned that he had returned home late the night Linda disappeared, soaking wet and wearing different clothing than he had on when he had left the house.
“The ex-husband would clearly be a suspect in this case,” Tustin Police Department Lt. Tom Tarpley told the newspaper at the time.
Linda had been Phillip’s third wife and those who knew the couple described a volatile and allegedly violent relationship.
After the couple divorced, Phillip allegedly continued to harass his ex-wife by breaking into her apartment, stealing some of her belongings and damaging her new boyfriend’s car, according to The Charley Project.
Although the district attorney’s office did not mention Phillip in the latest update on the case, they did say that Tustin Police investigators had maintained an “active investigation” for years but were unable to “bring the case to resolution.”
In light of Phillip’s death more than a decade ago, it’s unclear whether any charges will ever be filed in Linda’s case; however, her younger brother Doug Durnall told The Orange County Register in 2013 that finding his sister would provide the family with some closure.
“I’d like to see something resolved,” he said. “I’ve already put this behind me, but it would be nice to have one glimmer of hope to at least put her in a gravesite.”