(LOS ANGELES) — The suspected victim of a convicted serial killer has been identified using investigative genetic genealogy nearly 50 years after his body was found near a California trail, authorities said.
Michael Ray Schlicht is believed to be an early victim of infamous serial killer Randy Kraft — who was sentenced to death in 1989 for the brutal murders of 16 young men in Orange County between 1972 and 1983 — according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The so-called Scorecard Killer, Kraft is believed to have tortured and killed dozens more victims in California, Oregon and Michigan. He is also known as “The Freeway Killer” for targeting young male hitchhikers.
Schlicht, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was last seen by his sister in April 1974, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The teenager “loved warm weather,” according to his family, and was known to hitchhike, sheriff’s department investigator Lauren Felix told ABC News.
In September 1974, two people off-roading on a fire road came upon the body of a person who was believed to have died three to five days earlier from accidental alcohol and diazepam intoxication, authorities said.
Despite attempts to establish the victim’s identity, John Doe was interred at El Toro Memorial Park in an unmarked grave.
In 1980, homicide investigators linked other deaths from alcohol and diazepam intoxication that occurred two years prior in Southern California, including Orange County, and the deaths were ruled homicides.
“Over the years, multiple young men were found deceased throughout Orange County and Southern California, including several within a few miles of where John Doe’s remains were discovered,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release Tuesday.
Kraft was arrested in 1983 during a traffic stop, after a California Highway Patrol officer found one of his victims dead in the front passenger seat, the sheriff’s department said. A coded list believed to name upwards of 67 of his victims was also discovered in the trunk of his car.
Kraft was convicted of murder and sodomy in May 1989 and sentenced to death. Prosecutors at the time said he may be the worst serial killer in the nation’s history. Kraft, 78, remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
The identity of John Doe remained a mystery for decades — until October. Nearly a year after the Orange County Sheriff’s Department enlisted Othram Laboratories, a Texas-based private forensic biotechnology company, to develop a DNA profile based on the victim’s tissue samples, they identified his possible grandparents. That couple’s granddaughter told investigators she had not seen her 17-year-old brother since April 1974.
Investigators received a DNA sample from a woman believed to be John Doe’s mother, which positively identified the victim as Schlicht, the sheriff’s department said.
His family members requested privacy and plan to install a headstone to mark his final resting place, the sheriff’s department said.
The case remains under investigation. Any charging decisions against Kraft in connection with Schlicht’s death will be made by the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s department said.
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