PHOTO: Cold Case, Howard Neal

In the Fall of 1980, an archaeologist discovered what appeared to be a shallow grave in an isolated area of Ludlow, CA. That grave contained the bodies of two unidentified homicide victims, a male, and a female. Both victims were completely naked with no form of identification found in the vicinity. It's a story that would last nearly 4 decades.

Investigators from the Specialized Investigations Division, Homicide Detail, initiated an investigation into the murder of the John and Jane Doe. After an extensive autopsy was performed it was determined that both victims died as a result of gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma. Authorities began the work in identifying the two victims. Several months turned into subsequent years and all efforts to positively identify the victims turned up no answers. Authorities say that every available resource that was in place at the time of this investigation was used to identify the victims. 

During the investigation, investigators developed information identifying a person of interest by the name of Howard Neal, originally from Mississippi. Police then learned Neal had been a resident in the town of Ludlow, California, around the time the victims were killed and buried in the shallow grave. Neal lived in Ludlow with his wife and their young daughter. It was learned that Neal and his family left Ludlow shortly after the victims were murdered and buried. 

After Neal left the High Desert with his family, they decided on heading East to Mississippi where he stayed for a short time. In a shocking series of events, while there, Neal murdered his brother, then raped and killed both his 13-year-old niece and her 12-year-old friend. Not long after those murders, Neal and his family left Mississippi and began traveling west across the United States. The homicide victims in Mississippi were discovered in February of 1981. By March of 1981, Neal was already long gone, this time ending up in Stockton, California. Within the first week of March of that year, Neal was arrested for petty theft and taken into custody by the Stockton Police Department. While in custody in local police discovered an outstanding warrant out of Mississippi for the triple murders he had committed. That was when Neal was subsequently extradited to Mississippi. 11 months later in February of 1982, Neal stood trial for the Mississippi murders of his brother, niece, and friend. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to death. But the story doesn't end there.

About eight years after sentencing, Neal’s attorney filed an appeal based on Neal’s mental status. After extensive testing was conducted, Neal’s IQ indicated that he was borderline mentally challenged. Based on these findings, the Mississippi Court of Appeals decided to commute his death sentence to not one, not two but three life sentences. Currently, Neal sits behind bars, serving those 3 life sentences. 

Back to the High Desert where investigators in the Ludlow murders attempted to interview Neal, but each attempt to do so was denied by his attorney, who was representing him for the Mississippi murder trial and his appeals. Neal's attorney informed California authorities they did not have to look any further for a suspect in the Ludlow murders. Until August of 2017, Neal had not been interviewed by San Bernardino County investigators. 

DNA technology had advanced tremendously months and subsequent years following the Ludlow murders of 1980. The remains of the Ludlow victims were sent to a lab to extract DNA. After several attempts by different labs, samples were finally obtained. Those samples were entered into the National DNA database in hopes that a match would be made and possibly identify the Ludlow victims, however, there was no match made, and the victims remained unidentified for over 4 decades. 

In August of 2017, Senior District Attorney Investigator Steve Shumway and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Investigator Gerrit Tesselaar assumed the investigation of the Ludlow homicides. Shumway and Tesselaar traveled cross-country to the state of Mississippi to interview Howard Neal. The focus of the interview was to see if Neal could help investigators by providing them with information regarding the victim’s identities. He provided very little information; he believed the female victim may have been from Arkansas and had left her young daughter behind before she left to hitchhike across the county. During the investigation in Mississippi, it was indicated that the female victim had what appeared to be a deformed arm. Neal could not remember anything about the male victim other than he looked like what he described as a “hippie.” He told investigators he picked the two victims up while they were hitchhiking on the freeway. He then brought the two to his residence, where he became involved in an argument with the male. The argument stemmed because of Neal attempting to make physical advances toward the female victim. Neal told investigators the argument became so intense; he felt the male would probably kill him if he did not kill him first. Neal then shot and killed the male. After doing so, Neal continued his advances toward the female. Investigators believe Neal sexually assaulted her then killed her. Neal then transported the victims to an isolated desert area south of Route 66, dug a shallow grave, and disposed of the bodies.  

As of today, those victims now have a face and a name.

Enter Christine Marie Salley, born on September 17, 1979. Salley is a resident of the State of Virginia. She had always known she had been adopted and wanted to find her biological parents. In April of 2018, she hired a private investigator to assist her in locating her biological parents. The private investigator submitted Salley’s DNA. DNA from the female victim in Ludlow had already been uploaded into the GEDmatch DNA files after the victims’ DNA was extracted from her remains. After Salley’s DNA was submitted to the GEDmatch database on December 11, 2020, a match indicated a parent/child relationship between Salley and the female Ludlow victim. Investigators contacted Salley, and she provided them with her birth mother’s information. She told investigators that her biological mother was Pamela Dianne Duffey. The information was included in the adoption paperwork Salley obtained through the private investigator. To confirm the match, investigators collected another DNA sample from Salley and submitted it to the California Department of Justice Lan (Local Area Network) in Richmond, CA. Both samples were analyzed by DOJ, and in April of 2021, tests confirmed the samples matched and positively identified the victim as Pamela Dianne Duffy.

IDENTIFICATION OF THE MALE VICTIM

Christine Salley also told investigators she learned her mother, before going missing, was associated with a male subject known only as “Digger Lane.” Salley had information that Digger was serving time in a Virginia prison, and when he was released from prison, her mother was to meet him and travel across the United States. The travel plan specifics were unknown. Investigators were unable to locate any persons in any database with the name of Digger Lane. They only knew that he was incarcerated somewhere in Virginia and was possibly being released from custody in late 1979 or early 1980.

With the assistance of Virginia State Police investigators, who researched their databases, along with the estimated times of Digger’s arrest, incarceration, and release date(s), authorities can pinpoint one subject that matched the criteria. The subject was identified as William Everette Lane. There was no information to indicate that William Everette Lane ever used the alias of “Digger.” His arrest reports included a listed home address in Jacksonville, Florida. Based on that address, investigators were able to locate several family members, including Lane’s biological mother. Investigators collected DNA from Lane’s mother, and the sample was sent to the California Department of Justice Lab for comparison. In April of 2021, the male homicide victim from Ludlow was positively identified as William Everette Lane.  

With the assistance of the County of San Bernardino Victim/Witness Advocate, the process of returning the Ludlow victim’s remains to their families for proper burials has begun.