State announces possible DNA match in 1973 cold-case disappearance of Joanne Burmer
NEVADA COUNTY — The California Department of Justice has announced that human remains discovered in Nevada County in 1993 may be those of Joanne Dolly Burmer, who was first reported missing in 1973.
Burmer, 25 at the time, was last seen on February 27th, 1973, when friends dropped her off at Highway 20 and Excelsior Point Road east of Nevada City. Wearing snowshoes, she’d planned on making the roughly 3-mile hike to an acquaintance’s home at the end of Excelsior Point Road.
However, after not seeing or hearing from her for nine days, her friends reported her missing on March 8th.
Despite a thorough search of the area and investigation into the circumstances of her disappearance, which were deemed suspicious, authorities were unable to establish any viable leads and the case eventually went cold.
Twenty years later, on May 30, 1993, a man claimed to have found what appeared to be a portion of a human skull while out cutting firewood off Chalk Bluff Road, not far from where Burmer had reportedly gone missing.
The skull cap was turned over to the Sheriff’s Office, who in turn sent it over to the Human Identification Laboratory at Chico State University’s Anthropology Department.
There it was determined that the skull most likely belonged to a young to middle-aged white female. Despite these developments, the case stalled as the laboratory did not have the means of conducting DNA tests at the time.
Fast-forward to late 2002 and into 2003, as DNA forensics became more widely used in missing persons cases, a retired Nevada County cold case investigator began collecting reference samples from Burmer’s relatives, which were then uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Though no match was made at the time, the samples remained in the database and were routinely cross-referenced with new profiles as they were added over the years.
Then, in January of 2016, in an effort to consolidate investigations and maximize the potential for developing new leads, all open missing persons and unidentified remains cases were transferred to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit for renewed scrutiny.
A little over a year later, in August of 2017, investigators discovered the skull cap obtained by Chico State’s Anthropology lab had not been returned to the Sheriff’s Office, logged into the state or national databases, or submitted for DNA testing.
Finally, the skull was sent to the California Department of Justice’s DNA lab in Richmond, where a routine CODIS search returned a potential biological match to the profiles of Burmer’s relatives. Further analysis corroborated these results, indicating strong evidence of a family relation.
Though these developments are significant, the investigation remains ongoing.