Kenneth Nevada Williams Identified as Teen Found in 1978 in California

On June 3, 1978, police found the body of a teenage boy lying on the pavement of a street in Long Beach, California. Now, after 44 years, they’ve finally discovered his identity.

Using DNA technology, investigators have determined that the body referred to only as “John Doe 1978” is actually Kenneth Nevada Williams—a 15-year-old from La Puente who had run away from home.

Williams had never been reported missing and detectives were left stumped for over four decades as to his identity because there was so little to go on. “There was no identification,” Long Beach Police Department homicide detective Shea Robertson told ABC 7. “Fingerprints were taken. The fingerprints didn’t match any databases and the victim, unfortunately, was only identified as a John Doe.”

Investigators pursued the case for years, with their search for answers even expanding to other countries. For a time, serial killer Randy Kraft—known as the “Scorecard Killer” after police found he kept a coded list of his victims—was linked to the case by circumstantial evidence, though Kraft was ultimately ruled out as a suspect. Despite their efforts, the case went cold.

But as the years went by, DNA technology continued to advance and investigative genealogy became a viable avenue to reexamine the case. The forensic technique involves comparing genetic samples from victims, suspects, or evidence with databases to identify living relatives of the person whose DNA was collected in the sample. In September, homicide detectives used the technique to find and contact Williams’ family. They later confirmed his identity, though police have not disclosed how Williams died.

His sister, Roxanne Jones, told ABC 7 that Williams frequently ran away from home and that their family assumed that he must have started a new life elsewhere when he left home for the last time. They had tried to find him themselves over the years, even employing a private investigator, to no avail.

“He wanted to live in the city and go to clubs and have fun and he just… He wasn’t into drugs or anything like that but you know, bright lights, big city,” Jones said. “As soon as [police] said there was a familial DNA match, I knew who it was, who it had to be.”

“A teenager who was murdered in the 1970s has been known only as ‘John Doe’ for decades until recent technology and dogged investigators led to his true identity,” Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in a news release. “Justice delayed doesn’t have to be justice denied in this case. Kenneth Nevada Williams is now a known victim and identifying his killer is the next step in solving this case.”

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