DNA evidence solves another cold case

On July 31, 1979, a 45-year old mother of four named Dolores Rocha Wulff mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night with only the clothes she was wearing from her home in Woodland, Yolo County, California.  Five weeks later, a torso was discovered by two fishermen 50-miles away in the Benicia Bay.  Given the limited scientific technology at the time, the torso was never positively identified.  She became known as “Jane Doe 16.”

Immediately after Dolores vanished, the close knit Rocha family searched for her extensively.  They knew that she would not have simply walked out of her children’s lives on her own accord.  Her husband, Carl Wulff Sr., was looked at as the prime suspect.  He was the last one to see her alive and a search of his car produced a bloodstained blanket.  Almost five years after she disappeared without a trace, Carl Sr. was charged with her murder.  But, his case was subsequently dismissed for a lack of evidence.  Carl Sr. died in 2005.

In July 2020, a “cold case” investigator from the Benicia Police Department looked closer into the “Jane Doe 16” case and narrowed her possible identity down to eleven women who had gone missing from surrounding areas in 1979.  After “Jane Doe 16” was exhumed, the investigator contacted the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office about Dolores’ unsolved case.  Yolo County then contacted Dolores’ youngest son (who was only 12 years old when his mother disappeared) about obtaining a DNA sample from him.  He provided a sample that was then sent to the DOJ.

On October 20, 2020, the Benicia Police Department was notified by the DOJ that the DNA sample was an exact match and “Jane Doe 16” was positively identified as Dolores Rocha Wulff.  Yolo County Sheriff Tom Lopez stated,

“This case has haunted my office and, in fact, all of Yolo County since 1979. Countless hours were spent investigating Dolores Wulff’s disappearance. It is my hope that this provides some closure to the family who has suffered so much. I am grateful for the dedication and professionalism of our law enforcement community who made this identification possible, including the members of the Benicia Police Department for their incredible efforts.”

For over 41 years, the Rocha/Wulff families were left wondering what exactly happened to Dolores.  Although the details of her murder still remain unknown, her living family members can hopefully find some closure and Dolores can finally be laid to rest next to her family in her hometown under a headstone bearing her full name.