Someone walked into sheriff’s office with skull in 2001, cops say. Now it’s identified

Twenty three years after a human skull was brought into the main lobby of a sheriff’s office, the person it belonged to has been identified, California deputies say.

Using forensic genetic genealogy, the skull was identified as a man who hailed from North Carolina, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in an April 23 Facebook post.

The citizen who brought the skull to deputies in 2001 told them they found it in an area known as “Motorcycle Mountain.”

Aside from missing a jaw, “the skull was in good condition,” DNA Doe Project, the nonprofit that helped identify the skull, said in a news release.

Deputies said they searched the area where the skull was found off Duncan Road in Monte Rio, however, they found no other remains.

An anthropologist first determined the skull belonged to a man between the ages of 25 to 40, deputies said.

The man died from a gunshot wound to the head, according to the nonprofit.

For two decades, the man’s identity remained a mystery until deputies turned their efforts to forensic genetic genealogy,

Genetic genealogy uses DNA testing coupled with “traditional genealogical methods” to create “family history profiles,” according to the Library of Congress. With genealogical DNA testing, researchers can determine if and how people are biologically related.

In 2022, deputies said they sent the man’s DNA to the DNA Doe Project.

The nonprofit said they created a DNA profile for the man and uploaded it to genetic databases, including and

From there, the nonprofit said “a team of volunteers began the tedious process of building a family tree of DNA relatives to the John Doe.”

The nonprofit found a potential relative of the man, which led deputies to the man’s brother.

After comparing the two men’s DNA, deputies said they identified the skull as Jeffrey Thomas Rupen, who would have been 43 in 2001 if he died that year.

Rupen was born in North Carolina and went on to study political science at Columbia University in New York after graduating high school, deputies said.

While he was living in New York City in 1980, deputies said he “became estranged from his family.”

“At some point Jeffrey traveled to California, where It is rumored he became a house painter,” deputies said.

“To help piece together what happened to him,” deputies ask anyone with information about Rupen’s life or death to contact them at 707-565-2727 or email

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