Ventura County Medical Examiner's & Sheriff’s Office Team with Othram to Identify 1979 John Doe

After 44 years, the remains of a man discovered in an unincorporated area of Ojai in Ventura County, California has been identified as Esteban Franco, born December 26, 1933.

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Published March 26, 2024 by Michael Vogen
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In November 1979, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in the unincorporated area of Ojai, a small city in the northeast portion of Ventura County, California. It was determined that the remains were that of a male, estimated to between thirty-five and sixty years old at his time of death. The man was estimated to be 5’3” tall. Due to the condition of his remains, other identifying characteristics could not be determined. An autopsy was performed, and it appeared that the man likely had limited use of his left arm due to an old injury. There was also some evidence of spina bifida involving the lower lumbar and sacrum. Investigators estimated that up to two years had passed between the man’s death and the time that his remains were found.

In 2007, details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as case number UP15270. Despite efforts to identify the man, no leads yielded a match and the man’s identity remained a mystery. He became known as Ventura County John Doe.

In 2023, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office working with Ventura County Sheriff's Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas to determine if advanced DNA testing could help identify the man. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract from the forensic evidence, and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive genealogical profile for the unknown man. Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team then used this profile to conduct extensive genetic genealogy research, ultimately providing new investigative leads to law enforcement. Using this new information, a follow-up investigation was conducted leading investigators to potential relatives of the man. Follow-up DNA testing was performed to help confirm the identity of the man. This led to the positive identification of the man as Esteban Franco, who was born December 26, 1933.

Funding for the advanced DNA testing and forensic genetic genealogy used in this case was provided by NamUs, a national clearinghouse that assists the criminal justice community with the investigation and resolution of missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons cases across the United States and its territories. NamUs is funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and is managed through a contract with Research Triangle Institute International. We are grateful for the support of RTI, NamUs, and the NIJ.

Help fund another case Your contributions pay for lab supplies and research tools

Michael Vogen

Michael Vogen

Director of Case Management

2829 Technology Forest Blvd Suite 100, The Woodlands, Texas 77381

Michael works with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada on “unsolvable“ cases that can benefit from advanced DNA testing methods. He helps these agencies use cutting edge DNA sequencing and new forensic techniques to develop investigative leads for their cases.

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About Othram Inc.

Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at ... Read morerecovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit to learn how we can help you with your case. With anyone can make a difference and help solve the next cold case.