For more than 31 years, the homicide victim had been just a number – one of the nearly 100 Jane and John Does in Orange County that investigators in the Coroner Division of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department had worked tirelessly to identify.
Now, the young woman with a chipped front tooth and feathered, shoulder-length hair has a name:
Tracey Coreen Hobson.
The OCSD announced the identification on Thursday, Jan. 17, crediting new breakthroughs in investigative genealogy techniques.
“Forensic genealogy has provided a new tool for investigators to work cases from a different angle to bring closure to families,” Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement. “We will never stop investigating these types of cases and seeking justice for victims of crime.”
OCSD homicide investigators now will begin trying to figure out who killed Hobson and left the 20-year-old in a grassy area of unincorporated Anaheim.
On Aug. 30, 1987, a passerby found the skeletonized, two-month-old remains of a Jane Doe about 50 feet from Santa Ana Canyon Road and a half-mile west of Gypsum Canyon Road.
She had been stabbed in the torso and her hands cut off, according to an anthropological examination. A red handkerchief and a length of cord were found near her remains.
Despite an extensive investigation that included the first-ever clay model facial reconstruction in Orange County history, the woman could not be identified.
In May 2005, the California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services was able to extract a DNA profile for the woman, which was uploaded to the California Missing Person’s Database and the National Unidentified Person’s DNA Index.
The woman’s DNA profile was compared to several possible subjects in an attempt to identify her, with no results.
In January 2017, OCSD Investigator Bob Taft, a member of the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force, reviewed the case.
He worked with the OCSD Coroner, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the National Missing and Unidentified Person System (NamUs) to develop several new likenesses of her.
Those images, created using a CT scan from the victim’s skull by NCMEC, were publicly released, but the victim remained unidentified.
Allison O’Neal, then an investigative assistant at the OCSD Coroner Division, hung a blown-up likeness of the young woman above her desk.
“I looked at her every day,” said O’Neal, who left the OCSD in spring 2018 to become regional program specialist for NamUs. “To finally know her name is amazing.”
In August 2018, OCSD investigators partnered with the nonprofit DNA Doe Project in an attempt to identify the Jane Doe.
On Nov. 14, 2018, the DNA Doe Project — a volunteer-run, forensic genealogy organization that has made six positive identifications of Jane and John Doe subjects since its inception in 2017 — tentatively identified her.
DNA believed to be from a family member was submitted to the California Department of Justice and matched to the victim.
CalDOJ submitted the results to the OCSD Coroner, which on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 confirmed Hobson’s identity based on dental records.
O’Neal was at a train station in Tustin, waiting to greet an arriving friend, when she got the phone call about the identification.
“I felt mixed emotions,” O’Neal said. “I felt chills and I got butterflies in my stomach. I smiled, but I felt like I could cry, too.”
O’Neal worked in the OC Coroner division for nearly two decades.
“These cases were my family,” O’Neal said.
When she saw a photo of Hobson, O’Neal said she recognized her from the 2017 images created by NCMEC.
“I knew in my heart it was her,” O’Neal said.
Hobson’s relatives have been notified, but OCSD Public Relations Manager Carrie Braun said the agency could not release more information about Hobson or her family at this time.
At the time of her disappearance, Hobson had been living in Anaheim.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS or crimestoppers.org.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department would like to thank the below agencies for their work in identifying Tracey Hobson: The DNA Doe Project; The Orange County District Attorney’s Office DNA Investigative Unit; The Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force; The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC); National Missing and Unidentified Person System (NamUS); California Department of Justice – Missing and Unidentified Persons Section; Full Genomes Corp.; Fulgent Genetics
Additional unidentified decedents, dating back to the 1960s, can be viewed online at http://www.ocsd.org/gov/sheriff/divisions/prof/coroner/ud/default.asp