Skeletal remains identified through DNA as missing California woman shot to death in 1977

TUSTIN, Calif. — Skeletal remains found more than 35 years ago have been identified as belonging to a California woman reported missing by her boyfriend in 1977.

Linda Louise Durnall, 27, vanished in October 1977 after reportedly meeting with her ex-husband. Phillip LeBeau, who died in 2008, remains the prime suspect in her murder.

Durnall, who is identified in some reports by her married name of Linda LeBeau, met with her former husband to get money that he owed for damaging her boyfriend’s car. LeBeau was the last person to see her alive.

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“Partial skeletal remains, including a skull, were found in 1986 down an embankment along the Ortega Highway in Lake Elsinore,” according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. “A Cal-Trans crew doing survey work located the remains and notified the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.”

The bones, which were that of a woman, showed that she was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, prosecutors said in a news release. At the time, however, they were unable to identify the slain woman.

That changed last August, when the Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide Team exhumed several bodies in an effort to obtain DNA and solve multiple cold cases.

“The skull found in 1986 was among those, and it was sent to a Department of Justice lab for possible DNA comparison,” the news release stated.

Durnall’s family had provided samples of their own DNA in 2007, hoping it would someday lead to her being found. Authorities received word last week that a familial match indicated the skull in question belonged to Durnall.

A case description in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, states that Durnall was last seen the night of Oct. 6, 1977, when she went to collect money from LeBeau. According to the Orange County Register, LeBeau was suspected of beating Durnall — who showed up at work with black eyes — during the marriage, and after the marriage ended, of burglarizing her home.

He was also suspected of putting sugar in the gas tank of her new boyfriend’s car. It was that damage that prompted their meeting the night she disappeared.

The pair reportedly met at Love’s Restaurant in Tustin, just outside of Santa Ana in Orange County. The restaurant is now a Denny’s, the Register reported.

“(Durnall) was last seen at a gas station at that same intersection in her (1971 Volkswagen Microbus) with a male passenger,” according to NamUs. “After filling up her vehicle, she got into the driver’s seat and backed into a witness’ car.”

The witness told police Durnall was arguing with her male passenger before the fender bender. After she struck his car, she jumped out of her bus and ran toward the street.

Her passenger grabbed her and after a brief discussion, brought her back, the website states. Authorities believe the passenger was LeBeau.

The owner of the car that was hit told police he thought something might be wrong, so he exchanged information with Durnall in case she needed to talk, according to the Register.

She was never seen again.

Her VW was found four days later, on the shoulder of an on-ramp leading to Interstate 5. All her personal property was left inside the vehicle, authorities said.

The Register reported that Durnall and LeBeau, who met at the Orange County International Raceway, had dated for six months before marrying. The marriage, which was LeBeau’s third, soured quickly, according to Durnall’s family.

“I think Phil just wanted to have a wedding band on her,” Durnall’s brother, Doug Durnall, told the newspaper in 2013. “I know that later she was just not that interested in it. The things she would tell me about abuse, I knew it was the wrong person.

“When she said she was leaving him, that didn’t bother me at all.”

The couple divorced after four years of marriage, the paper reported. Both entered into new relationships, Durnall with a coworker at Addressograph Multigraph Corp., where she worked as an office clerk.

LeBeau’s girlfriend would tell cold case detectives in 2013 that he never seemed to get over his ex-wife. Durnall had accused LeBeau of breaking into her apartment and taking personal items that had sentimental value in her new relationship, according to the Register.

LeBeau also reportedly slashed her boyfriend’s tires when he put sugar in the gas tank. He had taken responsibility for that incident, agreeing to pay $300 for the damage.

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Detectives later learned that the night he met with Durnall to give her the cash, LeBeau had returned home much later than expected. He was wet and wearing clothing other than what he had on when he left.

He told investigators he had been reminiscing at the home he once shared with Durnall and had gone for a swim. The house was off Ortega Highway, the same road off of which Durnall’s remains would be found in 1986.

“There are a lot of signs that say it’s this guy,” Tustin police Lt. Tom Tarpley told the Register in 2013.

Because both domestic violence and missing persons cases were handled much differently in 1977, little was done to find the missing Durnall. Tarpley told the newspaper the missing woman was likely dead before police even knew she was missing.

Case files that disappeared or were destroyed over the years also hampered the investigation.

“I’d like to see something resolved,” Doug Durnall told the paper nine years ago. “I’ve already put this behind me, but it would be nice to have one glimmer of hope to at least put her in a gravesite. And we do have a gravesite.”

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