A duck hunter found the remains of a woman 26 years ago in California. It is now identified

Nearly three decades ago, a duck hunter came across the remains of a woman in a California river, according to the sheriff’s office.

The remains, found in the Ryan Slough north of Eureka, could not be identified, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office said in a June 7 news release.

However, just over a year later, Wayne Adam Ford stepped into the sheriff’s office, admitting to killing “several women”, including the woman who could not be identified, deputies said.

Ford was convicted in 2006 of “four counts of first-degree murder” and sentenced to death, the sheriff’s office said.

Even still, the identity of the woman remained a mystery, the deputies said.

But with advances in DNA technology, the woman now has a name: Kerry Ann Cummings.

“While we cannot take away the pain of loss, we hope this identification can help bring an end to Kerry’s family and community,” Sheriff William Honsal said in the statement.

Find an ID

Over the years, the sheriff’s office said it attempted to “identify Ford’s unknown victim,” by sifting through West Coast missing persons reports for leads.

DNA obtained from the remains has been placed in the state’s Missing Persons Database, as well as the National DNA Index of Unidentified Persons, deputies said.

“No profile matches were ever made,” the sheriff’s office said.

In 2021, the sheriff’s office contacted Othram Inc., a forensic genealogy company, to see if the woman’s remains could be identified.

Genetic genealogy uses DNA testing coupled with “traditional genealogical methods” to create “family history profiles,” according to the Library of Congress. With genealogical DNA testing, researchers can determine if and how people are biologically related.

After Othram created a “complete DNA profile” for the woman, scientists found a potential relative, who said a family member, named Kerry, “has been missing since the mid-1990s.” the sheriff’s office said.

Kerry Ann Cummings last spoke with her family in 1997, the sheriff's office said.

Kerry Ann Cummings last spoke with her family in 1997, the sheriff’s office said.

The family searches for answers

Cummings’ sister, Kathie Cummings, told investigators that her sister, who would have been 25 at the time, last spoke with her family in 1997, deputies said.

“Kerry suffered from an untreated mental illness and told her family that she was couchsurfing in the Eugene, Oregon area,” the sheriff’s office said.

Although the family offered him accommodation, Cummings declined, deputies said.

After Cummings disappeared, her sister said their parents tried to report her missing in Arizona and Oregon, deputies said. Law enforcement, however, never filed a missing person report for Cummings.

“Unfortunately, at the time, they were told that Kerry was an adult, that she had chosen the way of life, and that while she was not a threat to herself or others, he wouldn’t there was nothing that [law enforcement] could do,” Kathie Cummings said, according to the sheriff’s office press release.

When she missed her sister, Kathie Cummings said she would search the NamUs website, “looking for mention of her tattoo and looking for pictures of Jane Does.”

Then, decades after her sister’s disappearance, Kathie Cummings finally got her answer.

Using Kathie Cummings’ DNA sample, the remains found in 1997 were identified as Kerry Ann Cummings, the sheriff’s office said.

Kathie Cummings remembered her sister as an entertainer, who was “beautiful, funny, smart” and could make her family laugh, according to the sheriff’s office press release.

“She was much loved,” Kathie Cummings told investigators.

Ford is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Eureka, where Kerry Ann Cummings’ body was found, is about 290 miles northwest of Sacramento.

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