Crime

After 45 Years of Being a John Doe, Genetic Genealogy Identifies Man Found Murdered in Lower Lake

The following is a press release issued by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office:

Leopoldo Torres Melendez [Picture provided by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office]

On November 28th, 1976, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office received a report regarding human remains located in a heavily wooded area near Highway 29, in Lower Lake. Throughout the investigation, it was determined the death was a homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head. Despite exhaustive investigative efforts, the victim was never identified. The victim’s identity remained a mystery. 

In January 2007, the victim’s skull and teeth were sent to the California Department of Justice for analysis. In December 2007, a partial DNA profile was uploaded to the Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS). Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office never received a match due to the degradation of the bone and the victim’s DNA likely not being in CODIS. 

In January 2020, Detective Jeff Mora requested assistance from Parabon Nanolabs, which is a DNA technology company, regarding the possibility of identifying the decedent through investigative genetic genealogy.

In August 2020, the victim’s remains were sent to Marshall University Forensic Science Center, in West Virginia. A DNA sample was extracted from the victim’s skull, which was suitable for genetic genealogy.

In June 2021, Parabon Nanolabs delivered a genetic genealogy report. The report listed possible matches for the victim and a list of family members to contact. After numerous family interviews, the victim was believed to be Leopoldo Torres Melendez, who was born in Puerto Rico. Leopoldo was mentioned in the genetic genealogy report as a potential match. An oral swab was obtained from a family member who identified themselves as Leopoldo’s biological sister. The swab was sent to the California Department of Justice to be compared to the DNA extracted from the victim’s skull.  

In August 2021, the DNA results confirmed the family member was in fact the biological sister of the victim. Based on the totality of the evidence, the Sheriff’s Office was able to positively identify the victim as Leopoldo and notify his family. Through interviews with the family, it was discovered that Leopoldo was believed to have gone missing in the early 1970’s.  He would have been approximately 41 years old at the time of his death and was last known to live in the San Francisco area. Family members searched for Leopoldo, but were never able to figure out what happened to him until now.  

The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank Parabon Nanolabs, Marshall University Forensic Science Center, and the California Department of Justice for their assistance. 

The Sheriff’s Office will continue this investigation and we hope to have provided a sense of closure to the family. Obviously this investigation is old and the suspect(s) are likely elderly or deceased. If anyone believes they have information regarding this case, please contact Detective Jeff Mora by email at jeffrey.mora@lakecountyca.gov or by telephone at 707-262-4224.   

Categories: Crime

2 replies »

  1. Too bad that his parents went to their graves never knowing what became of their beloved son. I’m sure they mourned daily. Our “life” is in our “blood”. Leo’s blood cries out to God from the ground on which is was spilled. My sincerest heartfelt condolences to the family. I know the family can at least have some closure. And at the same time it re opens wounds. May God be with you and comfort you while you process this new info. Thank you to the investigating officer for getting these results.

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