Skull found in California identified as woman in 50-year-old cold case

Case once thought to be linked to the Zodiac Killer

Kelly Rissman
Thursday 28 December 2023 17:21 GMT
Skull found in Lake Tahoe area identified as belonging to Donna Lass, who disappeared in 1970
Skull found in Lake Tahoe area identified as belonging to Donna Lass, who disappeared in 1970 (NBC)

DNA evidence has led to the identification of a California woman more than half a century after she went missing.

Donna Lass, a 25-year-old casino nurse, was last seen in the South Lake Tahoe area on 7 September, 1970 walking near an apartment she had rented the day prior, according to a February 1971 news clipping provided by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

She was last spotted with a “young, blonde man,” the article stated. The 25-year-old left behind a bank account, a new car and a “large wardrobe”.

The case had gone cold ever since.

Some 15 years later, the sheriff’s office made a potential breakthrough: they uncovered a skull off Highway 20 near Interstate 80, officials wrote. Since there was no other evidence found at the time, they couldn’t link the remains to another case.

The unidentified skull was kept at the coroner’s office “pending further advancements in forensic technology”.

The sheriff’s office announced on 27 December that there was a DNA match between genetic evidence found on the skull and DNA from a member of Donna Lass’s family, which police had obtained for the missing person case.

The skull was identified as belonging to Lass.

The South Lake Tahoe Police Department notified Lass’ family members of the discovery. The department will continue to investigate the case.

“We are extremely grateful that this team effort was able to bring closure to the Lass family and are hopeful that cold case detectives can continue to make advances in these cases,” the sheriff’s office wrote.

The sheriff’s office did not provide any details on how Lass had died.

One theory that has been circulating for half a century is that Lass was a victim of the Zodiac Killer. The Sacramento Bee discovered a San Francisco Chronicle article published in March 1971 related to the Lass case. The publication was sent a “cryptic message” allegedly from the Zodiac Killer, which seemed to suggest that “victim 12” could be found “around in the snow” near Lake Tahoe.

The Chronicle also mentioned that police at the time considered Lass’ death to be a result of “foul play”.

The South Lake Tahoe Police chief told The Independent: “We have no confirmed evidence this is a Zodiac case. And no other theories to share at this time.”

The sheriff’s office encouraged anyone with information to contact detectives at

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