Article by TDTF volunteer Sarah B.
In the early morning of November 26, 1983, the body of an unidentified young person, late teens to mid-twenties, slim, and 5’10, was found on the cool sands of Pillar Point Beach in Half Moon Bay, California. This brown-haired (cut short), hazel-eyed individual, who would later be designated “Pillar Point Doe,” was identified by authorities as male though they were dressed in full women’s attire: light yellow knee-length capri pants, a light yellow jacket, a multi-colored turtleneck t-shirt (maroon with multi-colored horizontal stripes), black nylon stockings, brown-colored pantyhose, blue bikini-style underpants, beige colored lace underpants, a beige colored bra with foam breast padding, a white metal necklace with a crucifix pendant (commonly worn both as a Madonna-inspired fashion statement in the 1980s as well as for religious reasons), and two white metal rings. This outfit would have blended in among park-goers that autumn, which challenges the general public’s assumptions about how victimized transwomen and gender non-conforming people present themselves. Likely, they were a member of the LGBTQ community; however, it’s unclear whether they identified as a cross-dresser, transgender woman or gender-variant, which is why we use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to them. Their autopsy indicated that they were beaten, stabbed many times, and strangled mere hours before being found.
Many journalists have reported on the speculation that Pillar Point Doe was picked up from a different area, and was the victim of a hate crime. In one 1996 San Francisco Examiner article, Reporter Al Morch conveys a theory from San Mateo County Coroner Adrian Charles “Bud” Moorman that Pillar Point Doe was picked up in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco for sexual purposes. The coroner posited “when they discovered he wasn’t a woman, they started beating him as they drove down the coast highway to Pillar Point, where he was brutally beaten and stabbed to death.” His successor, current Coroner Robert Foucrault, has shared “we have no idea where he came from,” and continued, “we assume he was picked up somewhere and dumped off at the beach.” The belief that Pillar Point Doe was brought over from the Tenderloin, has been reiterated many times in official sources, like San Mateo Coroner’s website, and more recently in articles by journalists including one featuring Coroner Foucrault. San Mateo County has long been dedicated to Pillar Point Doe’s case, submitting Pillar Point Doe’s DNA to the State Department of Justice’s Missing Persons DNA Program, and at one point generating two ultimately disregarded county-based suspects. Theories about suspects and primarily Pillar Point Doe’s possible connection to the Tenderloin are currently unconfirmed by San Mateo Police but are still valuable in considering the unknown life story of Pillar Point Doe.
Just a couple of years ago, the Tenderloin was christened as Compton’s Transgender, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual district with a nod to the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots of 1966—riots which spurred transgender activism. For decades, it has been an area characterized by its runaway teens, drug use, sex work and marginalized communities but to many of its residents it is above all a tight-knit community. “It was good to go and be seen and talk to people about what happened during the night. To make sure everybody’s OK, everyone made their coins, everybody’s coming down off drugs and didn’t overdose, and that you didn’t go to jail that night,” said Tamara Ching, a transwoman, and prominent activist and resident of the Tenderloin during the riots. If Pillar Point Doe was a resident—which is unknown—they would likely have experienced deep kinship with locals as well as undeniable hostility, potential violence, and social and legal prejudice.
Trans Doe Task Force (TDTF) pored over the available information of Pillar Point Doe and made a case referral to DNA Doe Project (DDP) in January of this year. DNA Doe Project has identified and announced 10 Jane and John Does through genetic genealogy since early 2018. They’ve relied on Trans Doe Task Force to educate the public, generate support and funding for transgender cases like Julie Doe, and to discover and present future cases like those of Pillar Point Doe to DDP. Upon contact with DNA Doe Project, San Mateo Coroner’s office expressed enthusiasm about the potential of forensic genealogy and funded Pillar Point Doe’s case themselves. Now the decedent’s DNA has been sequenced by Othram, a molecular biology laboratory specializing in the application of DNA sequencing and genomics to forensics. Margaret Press, the co-founder of DNA Doe Project, was encouraged by the preliminary results at Othram: “Pillar Point has passed a tougher round of quality control. The lab is optimistic that we’ll get good data to work with. The next step is sequencing before uploading to GEDMatch.” Since the time of this quote, Pillar Point Doe has completed sequencing and is undergoing bioinformatics by Dr. Greg Magoon of Aerodyne Research.
The San Mateo Coroner’s Office website has featured a few forensic drawings done over the years with the intent of identifying Pillar Point Doe. Two pencil sketches depict them as a very young looking male individual with large eyes, a broad nose and disheveled dark hair and alternately, as an individual with smaller eyes and combed over hair. Another rendering is done in color and features a close-cropped high-top hairstyle, small, dark eyes, a prominent nose and the aforementioned white metal necklace. Together, these images present a stronger and fuller portrayal of our decedent than any individual rendering could.
While Trans Doe Task Force members have been awaiting DNA results, they’ve kept engaged by developing new likenesses of Pillar Point Doe to complement older sketches by the San Mateo Coroner’s Office. Using FaceApp, a mobile application that generates highly realistic transformations of images, TDTF has created images—presenting a spectrum of gender—which unidentified persons like ‘Julie Doe’ and Pillar Point Doe may have represented in their daily lives. Starting with an original depiction done by the San Mateo Coroner’s office, the new images present Pillar Point Doe in four alternate ways: the unchanged original depiction, with makeup, with long hair and softened features, and an image with features intermediate between the last two. Not only might this array of illustrations catch the eye of someone who knew this decedent, but it honors the non-conforming identities of these persons that TDTF champions.
Kim Parkhurst, an eminently talented illustrator, advanced TDTF’s mission when she created two beautiful forensic illustrations of this unidentified person—post-mortem photographs as her guide. A longtime interest in true crime and its intersection with forensic art inspired Kim to contribute to Trans Doe Task Force, developing a portrait of Live Oak Doe and then two illustrations of Pillar Point Doe. In a recent interview, Kim discussed the need for ambiguity and guesswork when portraying a gender non-conforming person post-mortem: “As for Pillar Point Doe—there’s the baseline, of using drawing and educated guessing to repair and restore them, as best you can. But also, use the information you have as best you can to reflect things like clothing, hair, presentation. It’s 1983 for Doe, and they’re a young adult biological male dressed in casual but distinctly feminine clothing… would they be wearing makeup? In one photo, it looks like some remnants are visible. So what would the makeup style be like, and in terms of 1983 and the style of their clothing, and how would it change their appearance? Because people might recognize them in one gender presentation but not the other, and vice versa.” Kim looks through magazines and records from the era and considers how the decedent’s environment and time period would have impacted them, in all aspects. The indicated gender non-conformity plays a large role in how she portrays the person, and she’s careful to “extrapolate, but not fabricate” as a slightly off smile could be the difference between someone getting identified or remaining nameless for decades.
She is aware that something as seemingly inconsequential as a hairstyle can make a huge difference in how we view the unidentified person’s presentation and identity. When rendering Live Oak Doe’s image, Kim had to imagine the likelihood of certain hairstyles, explaining “with Live Oak, that person had short hair, and taking their clothing into account, it was quite possible they’d wear a wig, and might be unrecognizable without it, so a wig and makeup version changes their appearance significantly.” Pillar Point Doe’s look was construed differently: “With Pillar Point, by comparison, they were wearing feminine clothing, but it was ‘afternoon errands’ casual clothing, including a sweater with a huge, chunky cowl neck. Their hair was that deep, rich, glossy auburn with no highlights or lowlights. If the photos reflect the color, it looks like a brand new dye job. So I’m less inclined to think ‘wig’ than ‘short style,’ because that big chunky cowl plus a wig is a lot, but short hair would fit the cute capri pants and jacket.”
Kim used to do commissioned portraits of loved ones that have passed away, and stopped because “the picture always feels so small compared to the size of the loss” and it became emotionally exhausting. However, with the unidentified it’s a different experience: “You’re not starting out learning all the lovely things about this person from someone whose heart aches for the loss of them. You’re starting with someone who’s lost their identity, and they need help. In a lot of cases they’ve lost their recognizable face, too. And you know, I can work with that. I can try to fix that. I can at least restore an effigy of them, and possibly help reunite them with their identity.”
We at Trans Doe Task Force would like to express our gratitude for the effective partnership between San Mateo County officials and DNA Doe Project, Othram laboratory, Dr. Magoon, and the passion and input of journalists, readers,