Genealogy, forensics help California police ID murder victim after 31 years

Published: Friday, January 18, 2019 @ 1:36 PM

California police finally ID murder victim after 31 years

Homicide investigators in California have finally put a name to a young woman found brutally slain near Anaheim more than 31 years ago. 

The remains of Tracey Coreen Hobson, 20, of Anaheim, were positively identified Tuesday, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The identification was made using DNA technology and forensic odontology.

“Forensic genealogy has provided a new tool for investigators to work cases from a different angle to bring closure to families,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “We will never stop investigating these types of cases and seeking justice for victims of crime.”

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A passerby stumbled upon Hobson’s skeletal remains Aug. 30, 1987, in a grassy area about 50 feet off Santa Ana Canyon Road in unincorporated Anaheim, Sheriff’s Office officials said. The body, which investigators believe had been in that location for about two months, was found with no identification and the only items recovered in the area were a length of cord and a red handkerchief.

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Tracey Coreen Hobson, 20, is pictured at left in a 2017 artist's rendering created from her skeletal remains. At right are dental records used to help identify Hobson, who was positively identified Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, more than 31 years after her bones and blonde hair were found on a roadside in unincorporated Anaheim, California. Orange County investigators are searching for Hobson's killer, who stabbed her and cut off her hands before dumping her body.(Orange County Sheriff's Department)

Hobson had been stabbed in the torso and her hands had been removed, authorities said in a news release. Clumps of her blonde hair were found at the scene.  

Extensive investigation -- including Orange County’s first clay model facial reconstruction -- failed to either identify the victim or determine who killed her and, despite periodic reviews of the case, it went cold, the news release said

The California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Forensic Services was able to extract DNA from the remains in May 2005, at which time it was uploaded to national and California databases of missing people. The sample was compared to that of several possible candidates over the years, but no match was found. 

Investigators again tried to identify the victim in 2017 by developing new images of the woman in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, and the National Missing and Unidentified Person System, also known as NamUs. Still, Hobson remained unidentified, authorities said

Pictured is a clay facial reconstruction -- the first in Orange County, California, history -- made using the skeletal remains of a woman found Aug. 30, 1987, about 50 feet off Santa Ana Canyon Road in unincorporated Anaheim. DNA technology and forensic odontology allowed investigators to positively identify the remains as those of Tracey Coreen Hobson, 20, of Anaheim, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, more than 31 years after she was found stabbed and with her hands cut off. Orange County Sheriff's Department investigators are searching for Hobson's killer.(The Doe Network)

It wasn’t until August 2018 that investigators decided to try investigative genealogy, the breakthrough technique that has helped solve several cases, including that of the notorious Golden State Killer. They partnered with the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit, volunteer-run forensic genealogy group that works to identify victims of crime who have gone nameless for years. 

Since its inception in 2017, the organization has positively identified six men and women. 

The DNA Doe Project tentatively identified Hobson on Nov. 14, after obtaining DNA believed to be from a family member and matching it to the sample taken from her remains, the news release said. Odontology, or the study of her teeth and bite pattern, confirmed the match. 

Hobson’s family has been notified of the identification, authorities said. 

DNA Doe Project officials thanked the Sheriff’s Department for entrusting them with the case, which was called Anaheim Jane Doe before Hobson was identified. They also thanked the NCMEC and NamUs for their help, as well as the experts and lab workers who worked to bring closure to Hobson’s loved ones. 

“Our condolences go out to Tracey’s family,” a statement on the group’s Facebook page read.

Sheriff’s Department investigators are now focusing on the last months of Hobson’s life in an effort to find her killer. Anyone with information on her or the case is asked to contact Orange County Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS, or 855-847-6227, or visit the Crime Stoppers website at