How ‘Kern County Jane Doe’ was identified as Shirley Soosay

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The 17 News special report ‘Murdered and Forgotten’ detailed the gruesome discovery of two women, found days and counties apart, but killed by the same man in 1980. One of those women was discovered on July 14 at an orchard near Delano, stabbed nearly 30 times. For years, her real name was unknown, even after her killer, Wilson Chouest, was convicted.

That all changed last year.

On Friday, rounding out Crime Victims’ Rights Week, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office announced the Kern County Jane Doe was identified in February 2020 thanks to the work of multiple agencies and the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit that works to identify Jane and John Does.

Her name was Shirley Soosay, a woman of Cree Nation descent.

Kern County Coroner Dawn Ratliff reached out to the Project in July of 2018 to request their help identifying Soosay. But even after their research, the DNA Doe Project had not been able to find a match for her until launching a Facebook campaign asking people who may share her heritage to upload their own DNA profiles to GEDMatch, a database that allows DNA results to be compared.

On its website, the Project notes the additional challenge presented by her heritage, which is “…under-represented in most DNA databases.”

In a video produced by KCSO, the department announced that Soosay was identified thanks to her niece, Violet Soosay, who saw the Project’s Facebook post and realized the woman they described was likely her aunt. She uploaded her DNA, and the case was finally solved. The DNA Doe Project believes Soosay is one of the first Indigenous ‘Does’ that has been identified with genealogy.

Wilson Chouest was convicted in 2018 for Soosay’s murder, and the murder of a pregnant woman found dead in the parking lot of a Thousand Oaks high school. The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office tried him on the murders even before the victims were identified because his DNA was found on both victims, who were discovered just 3 days apart.

The DNA Doe Project is still working to identify Ventura County Jane Doe.

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