Santa Cruz 1998 ‘John Doe’ Murder Victim Has Finally Been Identified

A 22-year-old man was brutally murdered in 1998. After nearly 25 years, his remains have been identified thanks to DNA technology.

April 14, 2023
Eric P. Cupo, pictured here, was discovered murdered inside a tarp on a hillside in rural Santa Cruz County in California on Dec. 27, 1998.

A 22-year-old man was brutally murdered in 1998. After nearly 25 years, his remains have been identified as Eric Cupo thanks to DNA technology.

Photo by: Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office

Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office

On Dec. 27, 1998, an adult male murder victim was discovered wrapped inside a tarp on a hillside in rural Santa Cruz County in California. Due to the advanced state of decomposition of the body, the fact that his skull had been shattered in many places, and a lack of ID, authorities were unable to identify the body, and he remained known only as “John Doe” or “Huck” for the next two and a half decades. Now, he has finally been identified as 22-year-old Eric P. Cupo.

Detectives were able to track evidence that led to the conviction of three people while the victim’s identity remained unknown. James Dotson, Kimberly Labore, and Jeremy Towner, who also went as Jeremy Michael Kraft, were arrested and charged with the murder. Towner was 16 at the time of the murder but was charged as an adult. All three remain in prison.

The three killers beat Cupo with a baseball bat and a telescope before they slit his throat, reported the Santa Cruz Sentinel. They later dropped a cinder block on his head before dumping his body on the hillside where he was discovered.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with the California Department of Justice Jan Bashinski DNA Lab, Othram Inc., the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Latent Print Unit. Thanks to their hard work and modern DNA technology, they revealed Cupo’s identity.

CBS News reported that Cupo moved around quite a bit in his short life. He was born in California. He was adopted into a Philadelphia family as a young child, then he later moved to Florida with his adopted father. When he was 18, he returned to Philadelphia and lived with his adopted mother. After that brief stay, he moved around the country, and his family were no longer in contact with him on a regular basis. Police think he lived in Arizona and Ohio before moving back to California where he was killed.

Cupo's adopted and biological families have been informed about his identification. According to CBS News, they are grateful to the sheriff’s office for “their dedicated and tireless investigation” to identify Cupo and resolve the mystery of his whereabouts. The family has asked for privacy and to not be contacted.

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