LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- More than four decades after police found the body of a teen boy on a Long Beach street, investigators have now learned his identity, all with the help of advanced DNA technology.
The boy, who was found dead on June 3, 1978 along Division Street near Corona Avenue, was identified as Kenneth Nevada Williams, a 15-year-old who had run away from his home in La Puente.
For years, he was known only as "John Doe 1978."
"There was no identification, fingerprints were taken, the fingerprints didn't match any databases and the victim, unfortunately, was only identified as a John Doe," said Shea Robertson, an LBPD homicide detective.
Williams was never reported missing, according to investigators. Detectives were able to track down his family members and confirm his identity. Police did not reveal how the teen died.
Kenneth's sister, Roxanne Jones, spoke about the case with Eyewitness News on Thursday and said she recalls her brother running away from home often. She said his family assumed he probably started a life somewhere. They tried tracking him down over the years and even hired a private investigator with no luck.
"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," said Jones.
She said she was shocked to hear of Kenneth's death.
"As soon as they said there was a familial DNA match, I knew who it was who it had to be," said Jones.
Police said several generations of Long Beach homicide detectives tried to identify Williams, even expanding the investigation internationally to other countries.
There was circumstantial evidence that potentially linked convicted serial killer Randy Kraft to William's death, according to police. Kraft was ultimately ruled out as a suspect.
Advances in investigative genealogy made it possible for detectives to develop new leads, reigniting Williams' case.
"A teenager who went missing in the 1970s has been known only as "John Doe" for decades until recent technology and dogged investigators led to his true identity," said Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office Donald Always in a recent statement. "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."
To help in its investigation, the FBI reached out to Othram, a lab in Texas that specializes in forensic genealogy to solve unsolved murders.
"We sequenced that DNA and we were able to get a profile that uploaded to the genealogical databases that led to a close family match that led to the identity of Kenneth," said Dr. Kristen Mittelman, a chief development officer at Othram.
Police said the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District Police provided school records that showed Williams last attended Sierra Vista Middle School in 1977 and was enrolled in Fairgrove Academy on Oct. 18, 1977. His last attended school day was on Oct. 27, 1977.
At the time of Williams death, investigators said he had the word "paid" stamped on his hand.
Anyone with information is urged to contact police.