In May 1980, the remains of an unknown man were found near Brea, California in the Tonner Canyon area adjacent to an oil well. The remains were examined by a forensic anthropologist. It was determined that the individual was a Black male, who was estimated to be between the ages of 17 and 24 years. The man’s height was estimated to be between 5’8” and 5’11” and he weighed approximately 180 pounds. It was estimated that the young man had died five to twelve months prior to the discovery of his remains. His cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound to the face and his death was ruled a homicide.
For decades, investigators worked to identify the man. Despite their efforts, the identity of the man remained unknown, and the case eventually went cold. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing an Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP7652. The man was buried with a name, but investigators never gave up trying to identify him. With advances in DNA testing, the murder victim's remains were exhumed in May 2022, in hopes that advanced DNA testing could assist in his identification.
In June 2022, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists developed a suitable DNA extract from the evidence and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. After successfully completing the process, the DNA profile was delivered to the FBI's forensic genetic genealogy team and the FBI team performed the necessary work to generate new investigative leads in the case.
The FBI identified several promising leads and Orange County Sheriff investigators began working to identify family members of the unknown man. After months of work, investigators contacted a woman in Compton, California who was believed to be the young man’s mother. Using familial reference DNA samples, investigators were able to identify the murdered young man as Lonnie Raymond Thomas. Thomas was 20 years old at the time of his death. Thomas’s family has been notified of his positive identification and his remains will be reinterred this week. Orange County Sheriff investigators ordered a gravestone to mark his final resting place with his real name.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigators now turn their focus to investigating the homicide of Lonnie Raymond Thomas. Anyone with information related to this case is asked to contact Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS or crimestoppers.org.