DNA Helps Identify Indigenous Canadian Woman Found Dead In California Almond Orchard

‘It’s no more uncertainties,’ Violet Soosay says about finally learning what happened to her aunt, Shirley Ann Soosay, over 40 years ago.

Shirley Ann Soosay, pictured here, was found murdered in July 1980 but it would take four decades to identify her.

An Indigenous woman from Canada was murdered in California, and it would take four decades and the persistence of her niece to give her a name.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "On The Case With Paula Zahn")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "On The Case With Paula Zahn")

By: Aaron Rasmussen

An Indigenous woman from Canada was murdered in California, and it would take four decades and the persistence of her niece to give her a name.

In July 1980, the body of a woman was found in an almond orchard near Delano, Kern County. An autopsy showed the then-unidentified victim had been sexually assaulted and stabbed dozens of times, KGET reported.

According to the station, three days and counties apart, a second woman was found sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in a high school parking lot in Thousand Oaks. She had been pregnant and her identity was also unknown.

Authorities called the two victims Jane Doe Kern County and Jane Doe Ventura County. Despite their identities being unknown, in 2008, DNA recovered from the crime scenes linked serial rapist Wilson Chouest, who was incarcerated at the time, to the cases.

He was convicted of the women’s murders in 2018.

In February 2020, Violet Soosay was able to learn what had happened to the aunt she had spent years searching for.

According to Violet, Shirley Ann Soosay had always been a traveler and had moved from the Samson Cree Nation in Edmonton, Canada, to British Columbia on the country’s west coast, APTN National News reported.

In 1979 — the year before her remains were found in an almond orchard — family ceased hearing from Shirley. One of the last things she had told them was she was possibly going to Seattle, where she had a friend.

Violet finally got a lead about her aunt thanks to a Facebook post from the DNA Doe Project. She contacted the organization, which then used genetic genealogy to confirm in February 2020 that the remains in Kern County, California, belonged to her aunt Shirley.

Shirley was returned to Canada and buried on the Samson Cree Nation in May 2022.

“It’s no more not knowing – it’s no more uncertainties,” Violet said, according to APTN National News. “We are certain she is home now and we are certain that we can visit her gravesite, even though spiritually, she is already with the creator and our ancestors.”

Jane Doe Ventura County, the woman found around the same time as Shirley, reportedly had Mexican heritage. Her identity remains a mystery.

For more on this case, stream On The Case With Paula Zahn: “Voice For The Nameless” on Max.

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