A story for every victim

Unclaimed homicide victims among those to be buried Wednesday in mass grave

The woman was found Nov., 9, 2009, set ablaze in a Willowbrook alley. Jane Doe No. 77 was wrapped in a sheet and thrown into a black 50-gallon residential trash bin.

She is one of 16 homicide victims who will be buried in an unmarked grave along with 1,400 others Wednesday morning.

The men and women were cremated at the Los Angeles County Crematory in Boyle Heights in 2011 after their bodies weren't claimed. The county stores the ashes for about three years. The names of those cremated have been recorded by hand in ledgers since the early 1960s. The Times published a database of the unclaimed in November.

Those whose deaths were ruled homicides include three women and 13 men. Most were killed in 2011.

Three of the men were killed by law enforcement. David Phillip McMahon, 49, was shot by a Los Angeles police sergeant on Feb. 19, 2011, after running away from officers, then allegedly pointing a handgun at them. Three officers fired, and McMahon was pronounced dead at the scene, according to law enforcement. 

Another Jane Doe’s charred remains were found off Interstate 5 on Oct. 11, 2010. Detectives could tell the body was a woman from remains of a jean jacket and a braid in her hair. She remained unidentified for nearly two years, until a DNA test confirmed that her name was Natasha Dionne Nelson-Washington. She was 44. Her family had filed a missing persons report after she failed to visit her daughter in Hawthorne. 

Washington will be buried Wednesday. Her case remains unsolved.

Usually, there’s a sense of urgency to get the body out of the coroner’s office, said Sheriff’s Det. Louie Aguilera, who investigated the killing of Nelson-Washington.

“A lot of us try to work harder on those Jane and John Does,” Aguilera said. “You feel like you’re their advocate.”

In Jane Doe No. 77’s case, the detective sometimes wonders who she is. 

“We checked through all the missing persons throughout the state,” said Sgt. Troy Ewing, who investigated the case.

Detectives have some clues to pursue. The department’s forensic artist made a reconstruction sketch that was released to the media.  The woman, who is believed to have been an adult, was naked and wrapped in a bed sheet.

She was white with brown hair, and weighed 117 pounds. She had a ring on her finger; her fingerprints had been burned off. Toxicology tests showed multiple drugs in her system.

“It would be nice if someone called,” Ewing said.

Though her ashes will be buried in a mass grave Wednesday, authorities have samples of her DNA, just in case a call comes through.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz, Jon Schleuss and Maloy Moore

Photo: A reconstruction sketch of Jane Doe No. 77 Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

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