Remains identified in nurse's 1970 Stateline disappearance

Donna Lass in a photo provided by South Lake Tahoe Police

Donna Lass in a photo provided by South Lake Tahoe Police

After decades of speculation on the fate of Sahara Tahoe casino nurse Donna Lass, who was last seen Sept. 7, 1970, authorities announced they have identified her remains.

Lass was reported as a missing person after she was last seen with a blond man near an apartment she’d rented the day before, according to a February 1971 news clipping with a South Lake Tahoe dateline.

“She left behind a new car, bank account and large wardrobe.”

The next day both her landlord and employer received phone calls from a man, who said she’d left town for a family emergency, according to author Robert Gray Smith’s book, “Zodiac.”

That turned out to be false.

The disappearance fueled speculation that she was the victim of the Zodiac killer, who was active at the time. She would have been the 12th and last victim associated with the killer. In messages purportedly from the Zodiac, he claimed 37 murders, though only five have been officially attributed to him.

A skull found in 1986 off Highway 20 near Interstate 80 more than 40 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe turned out to be the key clue to Lass’ final resting place. The location doesn’t rule out her possible murder at Lake Tahoe or the involvement of the Zodiac.

According to a Placer Sheriff’s Office Wednesday Facebook post about the case, there wasn’t any indication of who the skull belonged to, so it was preserved while investigators waited for better forensic technology.

“Recently, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, started a cold case team and dedicated additional resources to assist in the investigation of unsolved missing persons and suspicious death cases,” Placer officials said. “This team, along with our Crimes Against Persons unit, recently sent the skull off to the California Department of Justice in an attempt to utilize DNA technology to identify it. The California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services was able to match the DNA of the skull with the DNA from a member of Donna Lass’s family which was obtained by South Lake Tahoe Police Department for their missing persons case. This allowed them to identify the skull as the remains of Donna Lass.”

Her family was notified by South Lake Tahoe Police.

Efforts to reexamine the case and discover connections between the South Lake Tahoe police and Placer County cases are underway, South Lake Police Investigator Nick Carlquist said.

“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,” Placer County officials said.

Police will be continuing to look into any future leads on this case. Persons with information related to this development are encouraged to contact the SLTPD Detective Division at


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