20 years later, murder victim remains unknown | TahoeDailyTribune.com

20 years later, murder victim remains unknown

She fought hard for her life. Broken and bleeding, her consciousness ebbing away, she found the will to crawl 30 yards before her strength gave out. She did not want to die.

The story was all there, etched in the rocks and dirt surrounding her body at Sugar Pine Point State Park. It was an ending that frustrated investigators when it refused to offer even a hint of a prologue.

In nearly 20 years, her name and the details of her life before she came to Lake Tahoe have eluded El Dorado County Sheriff’s detectives.

On Sept. 29, 1979, three 20-something adults picked Sugar Point as the perfect place to spend an afternoon, smoking marijuana and drinking.

Warren P. Durso would later tell police that he was following a Blue Jay that he thought had a broken wing when he discovered the woman’s body around 2:30 p.m. Durso and his companions, another man and a woman, didn’t call police.

Durso had outstanding traffic warrants out of his home state of New York, and he was worried about being arrested.

The trio returned to their South Lake Tahoe motel and Durso made a decision. Getting the idea from an episode of the television spinoff series “Lou Grant,” Durso called the Tahoe Daily Tribune around 4:15 p.m. and asked for the editor. He informed the editor of his discovery. Believing he had done his duty, Durso quit his involvement – at least for the time being.

The editor immediately notified the sheriff’s department and the investigation began. Durso might have felt great confidence in Lou Grant, but it seems he wasn’t so sure about this editor. Around 8 p.m. Durso and his two companions once again went out to the park. His curiosity led him to ruin, and his fear was realized. Deputies immediately stopped the group and Durso was arrested on his New York warrants.

Detective Don Atkinson said an autopsy of the woman’s body revealed she died from asphyxiation and brain hemorrhaging. From tracks it appeared that the woman was chased and then her body dragged about 100 yards into the brush. She was found sprawled on her stomach, her features unrecognizable after the savage beating.

She was wearing blue jeans and a lavender pullover T-shirt. Wooden-soled sandals were found in the area. Her attacker had no interest in her jewelry. She was left with several rings, a watch, bracelet, necklace and her wedding band. The inscription inside read “To Mack from PNB.”

She had dark brown hair, tinged with gray streaks, was around 5 feet 3 inches tall, and between 35 to 40 years old. After the body was discovered detectives chased down some leads on people seen in the area at the time, with no luck. In September the park only staffed a skeleton crew, and the west shore of the lake was sparsely populated.

Atkinson said cases like her’s sometimes go inactive for a lack of leads, but they are never really closed.

“It’s hard when you don’t even know who your victim is,” he said.

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