Crime

Unidentified stabbing victim has a name after 37 years

A renewed effort to solve a murder paid off for Stanislaus County sheriff's investigators who have identified a San Francisco resident as the woman found dead 37 years ago near a canal with 65 stab wounds.

Investigators still don't know who stabbed Mary Alice Willey, but they brought in a forensic sculptor to increase public awareness. The resulting media coverage this summer eventually led Willey's cousin to contact investigators.

In September 1971, a federal worker found Willey's body near the Delta-Mendota Canal in Westley. She had major injuries to her face, neck, hands and upper body.

Willey's body remained unidentified for almost four decades in a grave at Patterson District Cemetery. On April 25, sheriff's officials exhumed her body in hopes of using new techniques such as advanced DNA analyzing technology to identify her.

In late July, forensic sculptor Gloria Nusse presented a clay reconstruction of Willey's head and face at the Sheriff's Department.

Nusse created the sculpture using evidence such as a photo of the woman, believed to have been in her early 20s when she died. Nusse and investigators hoped the sculpture would jog the memory of someone who might have known the victim.

After the news stories, a woman called sheriff's investigators and said the victim might be her cousin. Sheriff's deputy Royjindar Singh said investigators compared DNA samples from the victim and family members and determined Willey was the stabbing victim.

Sheriff's officials have scheduled a news conference Monday. Details about the investigation, including the type of DNA test used to identify the body, will be discussed. Several of Willey's family members also will speak.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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