Jeannette Kamahele, age 20, was last seen near the 101 Northbound on-ramp in Cotati, California on April 25, 1972.
Jeannette was a student at Santa Rosa Junior College at the time of her disappearance, and regularly hitchhiked from the Cotati on-ramp in order to attend classes. All media accounts agree that Jeannette was a good student, and that there would be no reason for her to have left of her own accord.
She lived in an apartment on Sierra Avenue in Cotati with a roommate, and it was she that reported Jeannette missing when she did not return home on April 25th.
A witness stated that they saw Jeannette get into a faded brown 1970-1972 pick-up truck driven by a caucasian male with an afro hairstyle. She was never heard from again.
Jeannette is one of eight young women who disappeared from the Santa Rosa area in 1972-1973, that were believed to be hitchhiking. The cases are all believed to be connected, although no suspect has been identified. The other seven women were found deceased, victims of homicide.
There has been speculation that the Zodiac Killer (whose identity is also unknown), or even Ted Bundy may have been responsible for the Santa Rosa hitchhiker murders.
In July 1979, the body of a woman was found on Calistoga Road in Santa Rosa, 100 yards from where Lori Kursa, another suspected hitchhiker victim had been found previously. Therefore, it is suspected by law enforcement that this unidentified woman was yet another victim of the hitchhiker murders. It has been falsely reported and repeated that Jeannette’s body was found in 1979 – however, this body has NOT been identified as Jeannette. In fact, she was ruled out long ago based on dentals.
Admittedly, my first thought was “Are they SURE it’s not Jeannette?” I mean, if they’re labeling this victim a ‘hitchhiker’ victim, that tells me that the remains could well have been there since 1972-1973. (This UID is not on NamUs so there aren’t a lot of details available.) I don’t know of anyone else who fits the ‘hitchhiker’ profile, except possibly Eileen Hynson, who didn’t go missing until 1976, and it is unknown whether she was hitchhiking.
According to this excellent site about the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders, as of October 2009, investigators were taking another look, using DNA to confirm that this deceased woman was not Jeannette. Five years later, it seems we have no answers one way or the other.
Jeannette grew up in a military family, and moved around a lot. She graduated high school in Yokohama, Japan prior to traveling to California and enrolling in college. According to The Last Place You’d Look by Carole Moore, American students in Japan were shielded from the anti-war movement, the hippie counterculture, and most popular music of the time. The author, who attended high school with Jeannette in Japan, described the culture as comparable to 1950’s as opposed to late 1960’s-early 1970’s.
Following the disappearance of Jeannette, a group of concerned fellow students initiated a carpool program to match drivers with students who needed rides, in order to prevent students from hitchhiking. This program led to several female students coming forward to tell of their bad experiences while hitchhiking. Most of these students, particularly those who were sexually assaulted, had not reported the attacks to police, but gave the group a description of their attacker and vehicle so others would be wary of accepting rides from them. Could any of these descriptions have matched the person seen with Jeannette?
Hoping for a definite answer on whether the 1979 remains are indeed Jeannette.
(Other sources linked to in article)