On June 8th, 2023

Homicide Victim in Humboldt County Identified After 25 years California DOJ assisted with identifying victim

“DNA technology, a persistence for answers, and criminalists who make it their job to find answers scientifically will be the key to solving so many cases such as this.  We thank the criminalists at California DOJ for the work they do year-round to assist law enforcement and criminal justice in our state.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona

HUMBOLDT COUNTY – On June 7, 2023, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) announced that a 25-year mystery has been solved with the identification of a homicide victim  and a family is finally getting closure thanks to a partnership between HCSO, the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) and Othram Inc.

In October of 1997, a duck hunter located a dismembered female torso in the Ryan Slough, just north of Eureka. The remains were recovered, however, attempts to identify the female victim were unsuccessful. In January of 1998, additional remains were located and recovered on Clam Beach.

On November 3, 1998, Wayne Adam Ford arrived at the HCSO’s Main Station in possession of a female body part. He subsequently admitted to murdering several women throughout the Northern California including the unidentified female. Investigators interviewed Ford numerous times, obtaining descriptive details of the female. Ford’s encampment was searched as part of the investigation. Investigators located additional remains belonging to the female recovered from the Slough. Attempts to identify the female were made, but ultimately were unsuccessful.

In June of 2006, Ford was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder in a San Bernardino County court and was sentenced to death.

Through the years, HCSO investigators never gave up on attempting to identify Ford’s unknown female victim, routinely searching missing persons reports from all of the West Coast to obtain leads. Using DNA, investigators were able to confirm that the remains located on Clam Beach were also that of the unknown female. The DNA was 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. No profile matches were ever made.

In December of 2022, the HCSO and the CA DOJ partnered with Othram Inc, a forensic genealogy lab, to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help establish the identity of the unknown female, or a close relative.

The case was determined to be eligible for advanced forensic DNA testing and the HCSO sent Othram a DNA extract from the remains. Othram scientists used Forensic Genome Sequencing to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the female. Utilizing this profile and forensic genealogy, a potential DNA match was developed for a close relative. Investigators contacted the relative, inquiring if they had any missing family members. The relative stated that their family member, Kerry, had been missing since the mid-1990s.

HCSO Investigators were able to track down Kerry’s sister who confirmed that Kerry’s last contact with family was in 1997. Kathie provided investigators with a DNA sample which was then compared to the DNA sample from the unknown female’s remains. These DNA profiles were confirmed to be a genealogic match- officially identifying the remains as that of Kerry Ann Cummings, born in 1972.

During her last contact with family in 1997, Kerry was suffering from untreated mental illness and told family that she was couch-surfing in the Eugene, Oregon area. Despite multiple offers from her family, she refused to come home.

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

Kathie told investigators that after Kerry went missing her parents tried to report her as missing in Arizona and Oregon, and even hired a private investigator, but due to laws surrounding the report of missing persons at that time, a missing persons report was never taken. Therefore, Kerry was never listed as a missing person or entered into any national missing persons databases.

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