FBI seeks Sacramento's help in IDing mystery woman who died 25 years ago

Sacramento may hold the key to identifying a woman whose remains were found a quarter century ago and who may have spent much of her adult life hiding her true identity, the FBI announced today.

A construction crew discovered the mystery woman’s skeletal remains under severed tree limbs behind a greater Seattle, Washington, freight shipping business on October 3, 1989, the FBI stated in a release.

Authorities identified a gold-tone Baylor watch on her left wrist and white Diadora high-tops with turquoise accents on her feet. They also believe she was a black or mixed race female with black hair, 5-foot-3 and between 110 and 120 pounds. She had tattoos on her left forearm and right arm. It is believed she was between the ages of 35 and 40 at the time of her death.

UPDATE [2:03 p.m. Dec. 30, 2014]: Gina Swankie, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Sacramento field office, confirmed via email that foul play was involved in the woman’s death.

In the decades since, the King County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI followed a trail that skipped across five states and dead-ended in numerous false identities.

“This case is unusual in that this person’s desire to conceal her true identity has greatly hampered efforts to ensure that her family is notified and that she may rest in peace,” Gina Swankie, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Sacramento field office, wrote in an email to news outlets. “Missing persons records have not yielded a match and family and friends may assume that she simply moved away and lost touch over the years.”

Now, authorities are asking for the public’s help and focusing on the city where her criminal record may have begun: Sacramento.

An FBI number that’s used to track individual fingerprints was issued to the woman after a 1977 arrest by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department on February 4, 1977, the release states. The number was issued to Brenda N. O’Neil with a stated birth date of April 27, 1958. O’Neil listed her address as 2953 San Jose Way in Sacramento, a residence in North Oak Park. Her booking documents list the alias, “Brenda Victor,” but the name “Brenda O’Neil” may also be fake.

Authorities in Washington believe the deceased woman also went by the alias of “Rita Lang,” who failed to appear in court nearly a year before the remains were discovered. Lang had a number of arrests for drug and prostitution charges in the greater Seattle area between 1983 and 1988, and always appeared in court as directed. In November 1988, Lang failed to appear in court for drug-related charges and was never seen again.

Lang listed two individuals as friends or contacts on her booking documents. One of the contacts is dead, while King County sheriff’s officials have been unable to locate the  second—Harmon Williams.

The FBI number linked to Lang is tied to a number of arrests in which she used a variety of aliases, dates of birth ranging from 1958 to 1963, and a variety of places of birth that include Arizona, California and Louisiana, the release states. The name “Janet Dee” was used for two prostitution bookings in 1979 in San Jose, while “Sherri Marie Edwards” was given during bookings in Fresno and Portland, Oregon, in 1981 and 1982.

To date, authorities have been unable to identify a true name and locate family or associates.

“Despite media campaigns in the Seattle area and efforts to determine who Rita Lang really was, we keep running into dead ends,” King County sheriff’s detective Scott Tompkins said in the release. “We hope that someone who knew this woman in the 1970s can help us solve the mystery of who she is and provide her with a true name so she can rest in peace.”

Anyone who recalls Brenda O’Neil or a woman matching the photos and description on the FBI’s Seeking Information poster are asked to call the King County Sheriff’s Office at (206) 263-2068 or the Sacramento FBI at (916) 481-9110. Individuals with information may also submit tips to Sacramento Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP or (800) AA-CRIME.

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