O.C. investigators release new sketch of unidentified teenager whose remains were found in 1996

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department released a new image that investigators hope will help solve a 24 year-old cold case.
A new sketch of an unidentified teenager found in Trabuco Canyon on Dec. 13, 1996.
(Orange County Sheriff’s Dept.)

More than 20 years ago, the remains of a teenager were found in rugged terrain in Trabuco Canyon.

Now, with the help of modern technology, Orange County investigators have released a sketch of the young man and new details about his origins in hopes that someone might recognize him.

The sketch, created with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, incorporates skull scans and the latest reconstruction techniques in a detailed image of a young man with swept-back hair and dark eyes.

The teenager was originally thought to be white. But the DNA Doe Project recently concluded that he was of “Hispanic or Native American origin” and from a remote or rural area of Latin America, since he had few genetic matches.


“Sometimes, seeing a picture can spark a memory, and that could lead to information,” said Orange County supervising deputy coroner Kelly Keyes. “We’re looking to match that face to a name so we can bring closure to his family.”

The young man’s remains were found on Dec. 13, 1996, and may have been there for as long as two years, according to investigators.

At the time, investigators determined that the remains were of a male between 15 and 19 years old and about 5 feet 2 to 5 feet 8 with a medium build, said Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun.

His teeth, which were in poor condition, were submitted to a U.S. Department of Justice database, but he was never identified. It is unclear how he died, and the case has not been classified as a homicide.

“Over the years, there have been occasional leads, yet he has not gotten his name back,” Keyes said.

She noted that coroner’s investigators continue to review nearly 100 cases in which a body has not been identified, dating back to the 1950s.

Investigators are asking anyone with information to contact the Orange County Coroner Division at (714) 647-7000 and mention the case number, 96-07901-MU.