Benita Gay Chamberlin, age 24, disappeared from Eugene, Oregon on February 23, 1978.
Benita was last seen at 10:00am at the Sacred Heart Hospital near 13th Avenue and Hilyard Street. Her infant daughter, who was born ten days earlier, had remained in the hospital due to a premature birth. Benita was there on the morning of her disappearance to nurse the baby, and was scheduled to finally take her home after 1:30pm that day.
She called a friend from the hospital, and was excited about taking her daughter home. She may have left the hospital with the intent of purchasing a crib for the baby, and some reports say she was last seen driving out of the parking lot. (One article states she may have called a friend at 2:00pm, but the friend could not be certain of the date the call occurred. It’s unclear whether this is the same call as is described elsewhere as her calling a friend from the hospital.)
Then she just vanished.
At 2:30am on February 24, Benita’s purse was located in a University of Oregon parking lot on Franklin Blvd. Her car was found abandoned at a Coca Cola bottling plant at 1585 Franklin Blvd. a few hours later. This location was only a block east of the parking lot where her purse was located, and both locations were within one mile of the hospital.
Benita, who also had two older children, was separated from her husband, John Chamberlin, and in the process of a divorce when she vanished, but Benita’s daughter has learned that John Chamberlin showed up at the hospital that day, and was seen there with her. She was said to be deeply devoted to her children, and it is not believed that she would have abandoned them willingly.
She worked as a maid at the Holiday Inn on Coburg Road, though she was on maternity leave when she vanished. She lived at 82 Howard Avenue, which was in the jurisdiction of the Lane County Sheriff, and that agency is handling her disappearance.
On February 24, a human thigh was found in a trash bin at a Eugene supermarket. It was determined that the thigh belonged to a female, between 5’4″ and 5’7″ and over 140 pounds.
Police looked into the possibility that the thigh belonged to Benita, but ultimately determined in May 1978 that it belonged to Pamela Bruno, a missing woman from Springfield, Oregon. Pamela’s husband, Johnny Bruno, was charged with her murder.
But, how could they have been sure? It was 1978. DNA testing wasn’t possible yet. There was a thigh – granted, it was recent and not just a bone – but there were no dentals, no fingerprints.
I have no doubt that law enforcement did the best they could with what they had at the time. But I also know mistakes were made.
Princess Doe came dangerously close to being identified as Diane Dye in the 1980’s. A press release was scheduled to announce that the two cases were solved. It was only because Diane’s father insisted that Princess Doe was not his daughter that the cases remained open. DNA later proved that Diane’s father was right.
More recently, DNA proved that remains previously identified and even interred as Michael Marino, were misidentified. Michael’s mother had been reluctant to accept the idea that her son was the John Gacy victim police returned to her. And she was right. DNA testing proved that the occupant of Marino’s grave is someone else’s child. The remains are again unidentified, and Michael Marino is missing, again.
It really leads me to wonder how many of our longtime missing were found long ago and incorrectly matched with John and Jane Does. And, of course, how many John and Jane Does continue to sit in NamUs, because their true identities are incorrectly inscribed on graves containing someone else’s remains.
It’s a daunting thought. It makes me want to go back through solved cases from the pre-DNA era and see how conclusive the identifications actually were.
But then I think, “How do you go to a parent who buried their beloved son or daughter decades ago and say ‘I think there may have been a mistake’?”
Ok, I seem to have gone off on a bit of a tangent, but the point I was getting to was that I didn’t think they could have been sure the thigh wasn’t Benita’s, unless they had a way of determining that the thigh belonged to someone who hadn’t recently given birth and/or wasn’t nursing. I didn’t think they could be sure that Pamela Bruno’s actual remains aren’t in Namus, because Pamela isn’t listed as missing. Even if the thigh did belong to Pamela, is the rest of her body sitting somewhere awaiting identification?
Then I came across this blog, which goes into a lot of detail about the murder of Pamela Bruno, and states that the identification was made through “laboratory analysis”. It also specifies that due to the small amount of blood on the thigh, it wasn’t possible to determine whether the woman had been nursing.
Strangely, though, this blog makes multiple references to an Elizabeth Green, who was ruled out as being connected to the thigh as their blood types did not match. The blog’s description of Elizabeth Green’s disappearance is clearly the same as Benita Chamberlin’s, so I was left scratching my head.
Was there also an Elizabeth Green missing and someone just confused the circumstances of her disappearance with Benita’s? It turned out that the blog author just decided to use a fictitious name.
I think I went down this whole rabbit hole for nothing, though, as Johnny Bruno did confess to the murder and dismemberment of his wife, Pamela.
Normally when I get sidetracked while researching a case, and it turns out not to be relevant, I remove anything I might have written that turns out to be unrelated to the missing person.
I’m making an exception here, though. Although I am now convinced that the thigh did not belong to Benita, I think it was still worth looking into. It’s important to point out that identifications back then were educated guesses, and were not 100% verified.
Benita’s daughter has a Facebook page set up to try to find answers, and another one of her daughters has created a video, explaining the importance of child fingerprint kits. In the video, she hints at some doubt as to the identification of the thigh, saying “There’s no way to go back and see if they were right.”
I hope Benita can be found soon.
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