“If not for technology and the people who learn this science, some cases would simply remain unsolved. I applaud the criminalists and latent print analysts at the California Department of Justice for their work, dedication, and passionate persistence in assisting law enforcement and criminal justice.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
HUMBOLDT COUNTY – On March 2, 2023, The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office released the name of a man who was found dead in the Eel River back in March of 1998. The man was finally identified 25 years later through DNA and a partnership between the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office’s (HCSO) Cold Case Unit, the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) 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 water 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.
An autopsy determined the remains had been in the water for approximately one month. The cause of death was listed as possible drowning. The deceased was described as 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 CA DOJ was able to recover one latent fingerprint which was entered in 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 (CODIS). No profile matches were ever made.
In December of 2022, the HCSO and CA 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, CA 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 HCSO received an 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. HCSO Investigators contacted 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. CA DOJ then compared the one latent print obtained from the body with fingerprints known to be Jeffery’s and got a positive match.
Family members are now arranging to have Jeffery’s remains released for burial with other deceased family members.
HCSO expressed its appreciation for 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 HCSO is continuing its partnership with the CA DOJ and Othram, and is reviewing several other missing persons investigations for the use of this latest DNA technology.