Humboldt County Sheriff's Office & California DOJ Partner with Othram to Identify 1998 John Doe

After 25 years, Humboldt County John Doe has been identified as Jeffery Todd Sydow, born in 1963.

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Published March 02, 2023 by Michael Vogen
Media Inquiries


In March 1998, a Loleta resident and his father were searching the Eel River by boat for driftwood when they located what appeared to be human remains in the river near Cock Robin Island. Sheriff’s deputies responded via jetboat and recovered the remains. The decedent was found to be partially clothed and in advanced stages of decomposition. No identification was located.

Following this recovery, an autopsy was conducted, and it was determined the remains had been in the water for approximately one month. The decedent’s cause of death was listed as possible drowning. The deceased was described by investigators only as being a white male adult, 5 foot 10 inches tall, about 170 pounds, and likely 35-45 years old. This description did not match any reported missing persons from Northern California.

During the investigation, the CA DOJ was able to recover one latent fingerprint which was ran through the Automated Latent Print System but received no matches. A forensic dental examination was completed by a local dentist. A DNA sample was obtained and entered into both the California Missing Persons DNA Database and the National Unidentified Persons DNA Index. The case was entered into NamUs as UP54357. The DNA profile was routinely searched against profiles from both missing persons and other human remains in the Combined Index System (CODIS). No profile matches were ever made.

Missing persons cases stay open until solved. 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 an identity for the unidentified man or a close relative. With funding provided by Roads to Justice (RTJ), the CA DOJ sent Othram a DNA extract from the unknown man’s remains. Othram scientists used Forensic -Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the man. Once the profile was built, Othram’s in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to produce investigative leads.

In mid-February of 2023, the HCSO received the Othram report indicating the DNA profile may belong to Jeffery Todd Sydow, born in 1963. The report included several genetic relatives, including a possible sister named Shirl from Missouri. HCSO Investigators were able to contact Shirl, who confirmed that she did have a brother named Jeffery Todd Sydow. Shirl told investigators that for unknown reasons Jeffery stopped communicating with family members. Their last contact with him was in the mid-1990s. Over the years Shirl had tried to reach out to Jeffery but could not locate him. As the family was not sure whether the loss of contact was intentional, Jeffery was never reported as a missing person. The DOJ was able to compare the one latent print with fingerprints known to be Jeffery’s and got a positive match.

Family members are making arrangements with the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office to have Jeffery’s remains released for burial with other deceased family members.

HCSO thanks the California Department of Justice DNA Lab and Othram for their outstanding work and assistance in solving this case and providing the Sydow family some closure for their missing loved one. The HCSO is continuing its partnership with the CA DOJ and Othram, and is reviewing several of our missing persons investigations for the use of this latest DNA technology.

Anyone with information regarding Sydow and his last known activities or whereabouts prior to his death, or information that may assist in the investigation of any open missing persons cases, is asked to contact HCSO Cold Case Investigator Mike Fridley at 707-441-3024.

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.