The Los Angeles Times devoted just four paragraphs to the discovery, then buried them on page B5 in a story that didn’t even have a byline. “Hikers Find Remains of Young Adult” was the headline, and the accompanying story, if you can call it that, didn’t really add much in the way of detail.
Three hikers in Trabuco Canyon had discovered the bones, which had been there between one and six years, in brush just off Trabuco Canyon Road, stated the Dec. 17, 1996 story. But that was all that was really known–“The victim’s sex, age and cause of death could not be determined at the scene because of deterioration,” stated the story.
These kinds of write-ups appear in papers all the time. But on Oct. 1, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department sent out a news release announcing startling new imagery that may shed new light on who the bones belonged to–which may lead to why there were there in the first place.
“Over the years, there have been occasional leads to who he might be, yet he has not gotten his name back,” said Kelly Keyes, Supervising Deputy Coroner, in the news release. “As with all of our unidentified cases, which date back to the 1950s and includes nearly 100 cases, we continue to review these cases with the hope that John Doe will finally get a name.”
According to the Sheriff’s Department, coroners learned a few things about the bones since that late 1996 LA Times story. They belong to a young male, Caucasian or Latino, who was between 14 and 25 at the time of death. He possibly had reddish or sandy-brown hair. He was approximately 5’2” to 5’8”, and had a medium build. His teeth were in poor condition.
“In 2010, the Coroner Division partnered with the NCMEC [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] in an attempt to generate leads that might deliver an identification,” states the news release. “In 2019, a computed tomography (CT) scan of the skull was created and submitted to NCMEC, which used the latest reconstruction techniques to develop renderings of what John Doe may have looked like.”
Those images are at the top of this page. The OC Sheriff’s Department asks anyone with information about this John Doe to call 714-647-7000 or email co*****@oc**.org. The reference case number 96-07901-MU.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.