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California murder cold case victim identified two decades later

California officials used genetic genealogy to identify a murder victim dating back to December 27, 1998 when police found a body "wrapped in a tarp."

Federal and state officials in California used forensic genetic genealogy to identify a murder victim from 1998.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post that a deceased adult male was found “wrapped in a tarp” down a hillside on December 27, 1998. At the time, his body was in an “advanced state of decomposition.”

An autopsy of the adult male revealed that “the most striking aspect” of his injury was blunt force trauma, but due to the state of decomposition, most of the soft tissue was gone.


An arrest and conviction of three people was made for the murder, but the adult male’s identity wasn’t discovered.

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The Santa Cruz Sheriff-Coroner’s Office began using forensic genetic genealogy techniques to identify the deceased adult male descendent in 2021, a press release states.

With the help of several state and federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation Latent Print Unit, the deceased adult male was identified as Eric P. Cupo, who was 22 when he was killed, the sheriff’s office announced on Wednesday.

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The sheriff’s office said that Cupo was born in California and as “a young child he was adopted into a family in Philadelphia and later moved to Florida with his adopted father.” 

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Cupo briefly came back to Philadelphia when he was 18 and lived with his adoptive mother. Afterward, Cupo moved around the country and lost regular contact with his family.

Officials say that Cupo’s adoptive family and biological relatives were notified of his identification.

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