But that changed on March 14, 1968, when a gruesome sex slaying of a young woman dominated the news for months. It was the beach community's less-glamorous version of the Black Dahlia case -- a 20-something woman who met up with the wrong man, was killed by a vicious throat slashing and then was left in the dirt for someone else to discover later.
Reaching a dead end, the case was placed on a shelf in a small room reserved for unsolved cases.
Forty years later, a black three-ring binder marked "Jane Doe 68-006079" is on the desk of police Detective Mike Reilly. Huntington Beach's oldest unsolved slaying is now getting 21st-century attention with DNA testing, fingerprint comparison and multijurisdictional analysis.
By modern standards, the evidence is substantial: Jane Doe was still clothed, wearing purple Capri pants, a white flowered long-sleeved blouse, black loafers and a long black jacket. She also wore a silver ring with a blue stone on her left ring finger. A rape kit collected at the time would now bear the DNA of her attacker.
She was Caucasian and possibly Hispanic, with missing upper and lower teeth, 5 feet 3 inches tall, 130 pounds with a medium build and shoulder-length dark brown hair.
Police theorize that she got in a car with a man somewhere locally and the pair drove to a large field used for farming. The man parked the car and the pair talked while the man smoked, dropping a cigarette butt onto the dirt. Then he decided to rape her, and when she resisted, he punched her in the face.
After the attack, Jane Doe was pulled from the car and her throat was slit on the freshly plowed soil. She was dragged to a nearby drainage ditch and abandoned around midnight as the rain started to fall.
It was obvious from the location that Jane Doe's attacker thought she would go unnoticed for days or weeks.
But that didn't happen. Five boys had discovered her body around 4:30 p.m. that day while walking through the field. And a quarter of a mile away, several children playing in an oil field found a white vinyl purse near tire tracks that looked identical to those found at the crime scene. They brought the purse home and a woman called police after seeing the news to say she found possible evidence.
The photos were not disseminated at the time; Reilly is hoping someone now will recognize the images and come forward.
"I don't believe in coincidences -- I believe this purse has something to do with this murder," he said. "This could be a huge step in identifying this victim." From there, Reilly can work backward and find out who she may have been dating.
"Was this someone she was seeing or met in a bar, or some random psychopath?" he said.
Reilly has sent the cigarette butt and the blotted lipstick out for DNA testing. He already has DNA results on the victim and semen from her rape.
"I'm starting over with this case, from square one," he said. "I'm going to look at everything mentioned in this file."
And it's quite a task. At 400 pages, the file is filled with reports, notes, photos and rap sheets of potential suspects and people of interest. None of them rose to the level of an arrest at the time and several are now dead.
"It's really frustrating because the case is so old, a lot of these records to investigate these suspects are not around anymore," he said.
Forty years ago, detectives did the best they could with archaic methods of police work. For example, Jane Doe's fingerprints were submitted to an FBI database that was like a black hole because no computers could compile matches. DNA testing was not yet invented and neither was a statewide computer system that links together crimes in multiple jurisdictions that have the same MO.
"Back then, everything was done by word of mouth and teletype," Reilly said. "To make a phone call somewhere else that was long distance, you had to get approval. And because it was expensive, it was usually denied."
Now, Jane Doe's fingerprints are in a national missing-person database, the killer's DNA is in a federal database and the MO is in an FBI database. A California database exists for victim DNA matching, and Reilly is in the process of submitting Jane Doe's profile. But so far, none of these new tools has yielded a match.
In 1968, about 3,000 people filed into the county morgue to look at her, embalmed on a refrigerated slab for almost a year. Coroner officials didn't want to give up hope of giving Jane Doe an identity and told a local newspaper that no burial was pending -- plans existed to preserve Jane Doe for "indefinite storage."
In the end, she was buried in a $90 pauper's grave and her whereabouts are as mysterious to Reilly as her name. The event was not covered in the press and no notation was made in the detective's file. All he has to chronicle her life is a small brown evidence box and the binder on his desk.
Anyone who has information on this case is asked to call Reilly at 714-536-5940 or see the Police Department's website at www.hbpd.org for more information.