In 1998, a long-haul trucker named Wayne Adam Ford walked into the sheriff’s office in Humboldt County, California, and confessed to being a serial killer. He had with him a plastic bag containing the breast of one of his victims.
Ford, an ex-Marine, told investigators he had murdered four women, including one whose torso had been found in a stream known as Ryan Slough, north of Eureka, in October 1997.
More remains from that woman were discovered on Clam Beach in January 1998. And after Ford turned himself in, more of her body was found in his encampment.
Ford, who underwent a drastic personality change after a head trauma, was found guilty of killing the women, sentenced to death, and has spent the last 25 years on death row.
Across those years, one mystery has endured: Who was the woman found in Ryan Slough? Although police had her DNA and ran it through databases periodically, they never got the match that would reveal her identity.
But that changed when California justice officials teamed up with the private lab Othram to see if they could use the emerging investigative technique of forensic genealogy to build a family tree for Jane Doe.
That led them to a potential close relative of the victim, who confirmed that a female family member had been missing since the mid-1990s. Her name was Kerry Ann Cummings.
Cummings was mentally ill and had left home to couch-surf in Eugene, Oregon in 1997, when she was 25. The family lost touch with her, tried to report her missing, and even hired a private detective.
“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,” her sister Kathie said in a statement released by the sheriff on Wednesday.
“As the internet expanded, I took to searching the NamUs 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.”
The sheriff’s office said it is now working with the family to have Cummings’ remains released to them so she can buried with her relatives.
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