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O.C. cold case gets new shot after technology unveils victim’s face for first time in 23 years

New sketches show what an unidentified male whose remains were found in 1996 might have looked like when he died.
New sketches show what an unidentified male whose remains were found in 1996 might have looked like when he died.
(Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

New images have been released of an unidentified victim whose remains were found in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains nearly 23 years ago.

Using reconstruction technology, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Coroner Division worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create the first images of a young man whose remains were discovered in a wilderness area in Trabuco Canyon in December 1996. Investigators think the remains of the 14- to 25-year-old male had been in the area for roughly two years when they were found.

“Sometimes seeing a picture can spark a memory, and that could lead to information,” said Kelly Keyes, supervising deputy coroner. “This is the first time in more than two decades that we have been able to put a face to this John Doe, and now we’re looking to match that face to a name so we can bring closure to the family.”

Forensic analysis determined the victim was roughly 5-foot-2 to 5-foot-8 with a medium build and possibly had reddish or sandy-brown hair. His teeth were in poor condition and were submitted to a Department of Justice database, officials said.

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A CT scan of the victim’s skull was created in 2019 and submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which developed renderings of what John Doe might have looked like at the time of his death.

“Over the years, there have been occasional leads to who he might be, yet he has not gotten his name back,” Keyes said. “As with all of our unidentified cases, which date back to the 1950s and includes nearly 100 cases, we continue to review these cases with the hope that John Doe will finally get a name.”

The cold case was Keyes’ first, she told CBS-TV Channel 2. She said she’s hopeful that the new sketches will help investigators complete the investigation.

“This is someone’s child,” she said. “If we can find out who he is and give him his name back and give somebody their son back, I think that’s pretty big for that one family.”


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