Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Unknown
Case: Unidentified Remains
Location: Santa Cruz Island, California
Date: April 27, 1990


Details: An unknown woman’s remains were found in a small metal box in a shed on Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California. An eccentric and deeply private man, Dr. Carey Quillan Stanton, owned the island. In life, many found his eccentricities fascinating. But following his death in 1987, he left behind this baffling, unsolved mystery.
Carey, a lifelong bachelor, was the scion of a wealthy California family. He graduated from medical school at Stanford University and then practiced as a pathologist in New York City. In 1957, when he was just thirty-four years old, he left New York and returned to California to run the family cattle ranch. But it was no typical ranch.
Carey’s family owned 9/10 of Santa Cruz Island, located off the southwestern coast of Ventura, California. At 62,000 acres, it is the largest of California’s Channel Islands. His father, Edwin, a Los Angeles businessman and oil man, had purchased the island for $1 million in 1937. Sheep had previously been raised on the island. However, they became feral and were removed to protect the environment. Hereford cattle were then brought in by Edwin.
When Carey’s parents died, he took control of the ranch. According to Marla Daily, President of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation and Carey’s former personal assistant, he was very protective of the island. He used to say that the island was not his; it was just a responsibility handed down to him by his parents.
One day, Carey was walking down one of the island’s beaches when he came across a large trash bag. He went through the bag until he found an envelope. On the envelope were the name and address of a prominent yacht broker in Ventura. Carey left the island with the trash bag, drove to the yacht broker, dropped the bag on the man’s desk, and said, “Excuse me, sir, I believe you left this on my island.”
Carey lived in virtual solitude in the main ranch house, though he welcomed house guests. As the years passed, he developed a rigid, sometimes quirky, schedule, which he expected all visitors to abide by. Dinner was always a semi-formal affair that began precisely at 7:30pm. The weekly menu never varied. The same five main courses were rotated in sequence throughout the year.
At the stroke of 8:30pm, Carey and his guests repaired to the living room for coffee and the only dessert ever served: oatmeal cookies. Carey retired for the evening at precisely 9pm. During all the years he lived on the island, he rarely deviated from his routine.
For Carey, the island was heaven on earth. In 1985, he established the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving the island’s cultural history. He also established a private cemetery, Cemetery of the Holy Cross, exclusively for those intimately associated with the island. He even had his parents’ bodies exhumed, cremated, and reburied in the cemetery. By 1987, there were fourteen graves surrounding the ranch chapel. On December 8 of that year, the total rose to fifteen; Carey died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-four.
Carey left the entire ranch to the Nature Conservancy, a private, non-profit organization. The organization, in conjunction with Santa Barbara County’s Agricultural Commission and other environmental agencies, works to preserve the island in its pristine state. The organization ended the cattle operation on the island. The island has since become a part of the Channel Islands National Park.
On April 27, 1990, Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Joe Karl searched the island’s ranch for old pesticides. One of the places he searched was a 19th-century wooden seed shed located near the main ranch house. While in the shed, he came across an unusual and tightly sealed copper box tucked away in a seed cabinet. When he opened the box, he discovered what appeared to be cremated human remains.
Joe showed the box to Marla, who also recognized the remains as human. No one on the island knew anything about the mysterious remains. Joe and Marla contacted Larry Gillespie, the Chief Deputy Coroner of Santa Barbara County. He found a few intriguing clues: a snap-like clothing fastener manufactured in the 1940s; several false teeth from the 1950s; and a diamond-studded platinum ring dating from before World War II. Also found were metal nails, staples, and screws, most likely parts of a coffin.
According to Randy Thwing of the Santa Barbara Cemetery, copper boxes have been used to hold cremated remains since before World War II. During the war, they were discontinued due to a copper shortage, then put back into use. Thwing says it is normal for metals such as nails, staples, and screws to survive the heat during cremation.
Later, tests on the bone fragments would yield more information. Gillespie believes that the remains belong to an elderly woman, based upon the findings of the arthritic changes of the bones and the characteristics of one particular wrist bone that appeared to be female. Forensic anthropologist Dr. Phil Walker believes the woman was cremated sometime during the 1950s or 1960s.
Was Carey the keeper of a deep, dark secret? It seems unlikely. He had a reputation as a compulsive archivist who meticulously labeled everything. Marla says, “It is very unlike [him] to have the loose end in particular of human remains left on the island. It is not something he would do.” Furthermore, the items found in the box indicate that the remains were in a coffin and then cremated, suggesting no foul play was involved.
Who was the mystery woman found on the island? All that is known is that she died sometime after World War II at an age past fifty. She suffered from a slight arthritic condition and wore a platinum and diamond eternity ring (possibly a wedding ring).
Marla says the Santa Cruz Island Foundation does not know what to do with the woman’s remains. They would like to do the right thing and find a place where she belongs. If that place is on the island, they want to see her added to the cemetery. They want to make sure the remains receive an appropriate final resting place.
Suspects: Because metal nails, staples, and screws, items that are normally part of a coffin, were found with the remains, it appears that foul play was not involved in the woman’s death. Carey is not believed to have anything to do with her death. However, it is not known if he knew the woman.
Some believe that the woman was the mother of a mid-century island ranch worker who intended to bury or scatter her remains on the island but never did so.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the February 12, 1992 episode.
  • Some sources state the clothing fastener was from the 1920s or 1930s, and the false teeth could have been from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Results: Unsolved - The woman’s remains are now interred with a cross in an unmarked grave in the island’s cemetery. Her identity remains a mystery.