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Oregon teen was murdered in SLO four decades ago. It took 14 years to discover her name

Solving a murder isn’t an hour-long, made-for-television drama, wrapped up with a tidy ending in time for the next show.

At an August news conference, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson spoke about the larger-than-usual number of murder cases the county has been faced with solving this year.

According to FBI statistics, most murders are committed by someone the victim knows. The 2017 statistics show that only 9.7 of homicides are committed by strangers.

In cases where the gender is known, 88 percent of the perpetrators are male.

Today there is a wealth of information that can be gathered to build a case, including cell phone records, social media posts, video and DNA analysis. DNA evidence in particular offers the chance to solve crimes that have remained unsolved for decades.

The Sheriff’s Office has a detective dedicated to reexamining unsolved murders.

In April, the agency identified a suspect in two decades-old killings, and there is hope that other cold cases can be solved using new techniques.

One of the several unsolved murders under investigation is a 41-year-old homicide. The victim remained unidentified for 14 years, almost as long as she had lived.

Danna Dykstra Coy wrote about efforts to discover the identity of the slain teen in the Telegram-Tribune on Aug. 24, 1992.

Slain teen identified

After 14 years, corpse in creek has a name

Sheriff’s detectives believe they have identified the body of a teen-age girl found 14 years ago in a creekbed near the Cuesta summit.

A recent break has lead them to conclude the Jane Doe discovered June 22, 1978, with a bullet through her head was Cheryl Ann Manning, a 16-year-old hitchhiker from McMinnville, Ore.

Chief Deputy Coroner Don Hines’ phone call to Oregon police last spring turned up the first real clue.

Until then there had been no breaks in the years since a county inspector searching for noxious weeds found the nude, decomposed body a mile north of Cuesta summit, between Highway 101 and the Southern Pacific Railroad Tracks.

“The case had reached a point where we’d exhausted all leads,” said Hines, who wasn’t initially involved in the investigation but inherited the case after personnel changes.

The model that helped San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office detectives identify a teenager whose body was found on the Cuesta Grade was made by Dr. Rodger Heglar, background. She was identified in 1992 as Cheryle Ann Manning of McMinville, Oregon. The model was made in July 1978, a month after her body was discovered. Wayne Nicholls Telegram-Tribune

For years, detectives’ only lead was the victim’s physical description: 16 to 21 years old; about 5 feet 6 inches tall and 145 pounds. Her most distinguishing trait was her footlong light brown hair.

Because of the publicity generated by the story, they also figured she wasn’t from this area. If she was, they assumed, someone would have known something.

Over the years detectives have waded through thousands of teletype missing persons reports.

Early in the case they called in a forensic anthropologist from San Francisco to build a clay face from the girl’s skull. Copies of sketches showing a profile and front view of her face were distributed to reporters and law enforcement agencies around the country.

No one was ever arrested for the killing.

And, though Hines continued to routinely check the teletype in the department’s dispatch center for possible matches from around the country it seemed no one would ever know the victim’s identity.

Then, about a year ago, the name Cheryl Ann Manning showed up in the system. Her physical description was a perfect match, said Hines.

He couldn’t say why she didn’t show up sooner. But with hundreds of thousands of names in the system to weed through, he wasn’t surprised.

He was encouraged by the fact that Manning was last hard from Jan. 29, 1978. She called her parents from an unknown place to say she planned to hitchhike home, according to the state Department of Justice.

Detectives long ago had placed their Jane Doe’s death around February or March 1978 because of the deteriorated state of her body.

Hines gave what information he had to the McMinnville police. They told him they didn’t believe there was enough to confirm a match.

But Manning’s name and personal data continued to show up in the system. The Department of Justice considered her a top “hit” or match, Hines said.

Last March he again called McMinnville police, this time asking them to provide him a copy of Manning’s missing persons report.

He also obtained a school picture, copies of dental charts from her upper teeth and a notation that when Manning was a child she’d fractured her arm falling off a pony.

The picture, when compared to the sketches and face mold, was enough to convince him he’d found his Jane Doe.

To be certain, on April 1 this year he requested the body of the girl buried 14 years ago at the Santa Margarita Cemetery to be exhumed for a physical examination.

The upper teeth records were a perfect match. Given the minimal dental work done on her bottom teeth, Hines said he wasn’t surprised the teeth weren’t charted.

The model that helped San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office detectives identify a teenager whose body was found on the Cuesta Grade was made by Dr. Rodger Heglar, background. She was identified in 1992 as Cheryle Ann Manning of McMinville, Oregon. The model was made in July 1978, a month after her body was discovered. Wayne Nicholls Telegram-Tribune

The girl buried here had only two pit fillings that wouldn’t have required an anesthetic, Hines said.

Manning’s dentist, who was her father, probably wouldn’t have considered it necessary to do charts for something like that, Hines said.

The dead girl’s bones were too deteriorated to determine whether she’d ever suffered a fracture. And her file from the hospital where she’d been treated had been purged, so there was nothing to compare with X-rays taken of the girl found in this county.

“However, her X-rays were consistent with that of a teen-ager about 16 or 17 years old,” said Hines.

Cheryl Ann Manning, born March 10, 1961, would have been 16 or 17 at the time the girl in this county was killed.

Taking all of this into consideration, Hines said he has little doubt that the body is Manning’s.

There is a lot of satisfaction in identifying a missing person, even if it’s the victim of a homicide. Hines said the family deserves to know the truth, to stop clinging to false hopes and get on with their lives.

In this case, though, nobody ever got that chance.

Since Manning’s disappearance, her father suffered a stroke and died. Her mother committed suicide. Detectives don’t know where to find her brother, the only living member of her immediate family.

And, even though they’ve got a name, detectives can’t close the case.

They need to find a killer first.

Correction: the story has corrected the spelling of Cheryl.

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David Middlecamp is a photojournalist and third-generation Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black-and-white film now includes an FAA-certified drone pilot license. He also writes the history column “Photos from the Vault.”