On March 3, 1963, 5-year-old Doreen Heskett said goodbye at the end of a play date and started walking toward her home on Main Street, just south of Pueblo Avenue.
The little brown-haired girl never made it home, leaving her frantic and grief-stricken parents wondering if their child was dead or alive.
It was nine months before their worst fear was confirmed, when Doreen’s skeletal remains were found in a dairy farm hayfield not far from the end of South Jefferson Street in Napa.
Doreen’s murderer has never been caught. But almost 50 years later, are hoping that with advances in crime-solving DNA technology and the help of the public, they can still bring Doreen’s killer to justice and closure to her family.
The day she disappeared, Doreen left her playmate’s house on Pueblo Avenue, west of Jefferson Street about 5 p.m., heading home.
Her friend walked Doreen part of the way, to Jefferson Street, cold case detective Todd Shulman said.
“When they reached the intersection of Pueblo and Jefferson, the girl told us Doreen started walking south on Jefferson,” he said.
“The friend called out to Doreen and told her she was walking in the wrong way, but Doreen continued walking in the same direction. The friend went home.”
When the child did not come home by 7:15 p.m., her parents called police to report their daughter was missing.
This triggered a massive search for the child which lasted several weeks, Shulman said.
“They had grid maps for law enforcement personnel and civilian volunteers, bloodhounds, helicopters, dive teams, the Air Force. People from the State Department of Justice were brought in,” Shulman said.
“There were press releases, photos and flyers of Doreen circulated. But investigators never found any evidence leading to a suspect.”
Shulman said all leads were followed. Investigators checked on sex offenders, interviewed family, friends, neighbors and looked into any suspicious circumstances that could have been related to Doreen’s disappearance.
“There were even leads from psychics. But nothing turned up,” he added. “There never were any ransom notes.”
Shulman said a man working at an oil plant at Jefferson Street and Pueblo Avenue remembered seeing Doreen walking on Jefferson about the time she went missing. “That was last known sighting of her.”
On Nov. 21, 1963, dairy farmer Earl Stewart reported finding skeletal human remains in a hay field on his dairy, which was about three miles south of where Doreen was last seen. “It’s not really feasible she could have walked that far,” Shulman said.
The skeletal remains were identified through dental records and the clothing found at the scene was Doreen’s.
An autopsy failed to find a cause of death, but the condition of the body pointed to foul play, authorities said.
“There is no indication that the girl was sexually molested,” Shulman said.
DNA evidence in Doreen’s cold case has been sent to the Department of Justice criminal lab. “We are still waiting for results,” Shulman said.
Cold case investigators are asking for the public’s help in solving the little girl’s murder.
“Anyone with information, no matter how insignificant you may think it may be, is urged to call us,” Shulman said.
Anyone with information may call the cold case unit at 299-1521 or at 1-800-450-9543.
Cold case unit to end
This concludes our six-month-long Napa Patch series on the work of the cold case unit: The $500,000 federal grant used to investigate 39 unsolved Napa County homicides and rapes has run out.
The unit will close down on June 30. In the future, any evidence or investigation of the unsolved cold case crimes will be handled by the law enforcement agency jurisdiction where the crime was committed.