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25 years after California serial killer turned himself in, DNA identifies unknown victim

A head-and-shoulders straight-on portrait of a young woman with short grown hair, looking at the camera, slightly smiling
Advances in DNA sequencing helped Humboldt County authorities identify Kerry Ann Cummings, 26, as the long-unknown victim of serial killer Wayne Adam Ford.
(Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office)
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For 25 years, one of at least four women murdered by Wayne Adam Ford in California remained unidentified.

The admitted serial killer turned himself in to authorities in November 1998, carrying a Bible and the severed body part of one of his victims in a plastic bag. He confessed to strangling the woman whose body part he carried into the Eureka sheriff’s station, as well as three others — including one whose name he did not know.

Police searched missing persons reports for decades trying to identify the unknown victim of Ford, a long-haul trucker who had served in the Marine Corps. It wasn’t until advances in DNA sequencing that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office’s new Cold Case Unit was finally able to find the woman’s close relatives and put a name to their long-unidentified Jane Doe: Kerry Ann Cummings.

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Her dismembered torso was found in the Ryan Slough, a stream that feeds into Arcata Bay near Eureka. Additional remains were found at Clam Beach in Humboldt County.

A square frame of a man with facial hair and wearing a red shirt, seated behind a table, looking slightly to the left
Wayne Adam Ford appears for his arraignment in a Eureka, Calif., courtroom in November 1998.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

To identify Cummings, investigators sent the victim’s DNA to a lab, which sequenced it and built a DNA profile, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Using investigative genetic genealogy — a process by which researchers build family trees using DNA databases as well as traditional methods such as newspapers and obituaries — investigators found a close relative of the victim.

When asked if they had any missing relatives, the family member said Cummings had been missing since the mid-1990s. Investigators then found Cummings’ sister, Kathie Cummings, who provided a DNA sample that confirmed Ford’s unidentified victim was Kerry Ann Cummings.

Cummings, 26, went missing in 1997. She was suffering from untreated mental health issues, her family told police. She told her family she was couch surfing in Oregon and refused to come home.

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June 7, 2023

“Kerry was beautiful, funny, smart and an artist. She was great at making us laugh,” her sister told investigators. “It is devastating what mental illness can do in a span of only two short years.”

No missing persons report was ever taken on Cummings, though her family said they tried numerous times in Oregon and Arizona.

“Unfortunately, back then they were told that Kerry was an adult, that she had chosen the lifestyle, and that if she wasn’t a threat to herself or others, there was nothing that [law enforcement] could do,” Kathie said to investigators. “As the internet expanded, I took to searching the [National Missing and Unidentified Persons System] website when I was missing her, scanning for mention of her tattoo and searching through the pictures of the Jane Does. She was dearly loved.”

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Ford was convicted in 2006 in San Bernardino County of four counts of first-degree murder, including for the killing of then-unidentified Cummings.

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