Sunday, 16 June 2024

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office’s Cold Case Unit closes decades-old missing person investigation through DNA

Jeffery Todd Sydow. Courtesy of the Sydow family.

NORTH COAST, Calif. — The identity of a man located deceased in the Eel River has finally been determined after 25 years through DNA, thanks to a partnership between the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office’s Cold Case Unit, the California Department of Justice and Othram Inc.

In March of 1998, a Loleta resident and his father were searching the Eel River by boat for driftwood when they located what appeared to be human remains in the river near Cock Robin Island.

Sheriff’s deputies responded via jetboat and recovered the remains. The decedent was found to be partially clothed and in advanced stages of decomposition. No identification was located.

Following this recovery, an autopsy was conducted, and it was determined the remains had been in the water for approximately one month. The decedent’s cause of death was listed as possible drowning.

The deceased was described by investigators only as being a white male adult, 5 foot 10 inches tall, about 170 pounds, and likely 35-45 years old. This description did not match any reported missing persons from Northern California.

During the investigation, the California Department of Justice, or DOJ, was able to recover one latent fingerprint which was run through the Automated Latent Print System but received no matches.

A forensic dental examination was completed by a local dentist. A DNA sample was obtained and entered into both the California Missing Persons DNA Database and the National Unidentified Persons DNA Index.

The DNA profile was routinely searched against profiles from both missing persons and other human remains in the Combined Index System, or CODIS. No profile matches were ever made.

Missing persons cases stay open until solved. In December of 2022, the HCSO and the California DOJ partnered with Othram Inc., a forensic genealogy lab, to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish an identity for the unidentified man or a close relative.

With funding provided by Roads to Justice, the DOJ sent Othram a DNA extract from the unknown man’s remains. Othram scientists used forensic genome sequencing to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the man.

Once the profile was built, Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to produce investigate leads.

In mid-February of 2023, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received the Othram report indicating the DNA profile may belong to Jeffery Todd Sydow, born in 1963.

The report included several genetic relatives, including a possible sister named Shirl from Missouri.

Sheriff’s investigators were able to contact Shirl, who confirmed that she did have a brother named Jeffery Todd Sydow.

Shirl told investigators that for unknown reasons Jeffery stopped communicating with family members. Their last contact with him was in the mid-1990s.

Over the years Shirl had tried to reach out to Jeffery but could not locate him. As family was not sure whether the loss of contact was intentional, Jeffery was never reported as a missing person.

The DOJ was able to compare the one latent print with fingerprints known to be Jeffery’s and got a positive match.

Family members are making arrangements with the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office to have Jeffery’s remains released for burial with other deceased family members.

“We’d like to thank the California Department of Justice DNA Lab and Othram for their outstanding work and assistance in solving this case and providing the Sydow family some closure for their missing loved one,” the sheriff’s office said.

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is continuing its partnership with the California DOJ and Othram, and is reviewing several of missing persons investigations for the use of this latest DNA technology.

Anyone with information regarding Sydow and his last known activities or whereabouts prior to his death, or information that may assist in the investigation of any open missing persons cases, is asked to contact HCSO Cold Case Investigator Mike Fridley at 707-441-3024.

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