Familial DNA, Crime Stopper Tip Unlock 25-Year Old Fresno County Mystery - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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Familial DNA, Crime Stopper Tip Unlock 25-Year Old Fresno County Mystery

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Familial DNA has enabled investigators to identify the remains of Salvador Mesa, who was murdered 25 years ago in western Fresno County. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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Familial DNA — an investigative tool used to identify the Golden State Killer as Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. in 2018 —has revealed the identity of a Fresno County husband and father to five children who was murdered 25 years ago.

Salvador Meza was 34 years old when he was reported missing, last seen in Huron in August of 1998. His unidentifiable remains were recovered from an agricultural water well in Coalinga in May  2000, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said.

Early on, investigators attempted to identify the remains by uploading a DNA profile into the Department of Justice’s Missing Person database. However, no match was found.

“What was difficult for us to identify him back then is his family never reported him as missing. … They said that was not unusual for him to just leave, so we didn’t have his name in that database to cross-reference with the DNA sample,” explained Botti.

Crime Stoppers Tip Provides a Promising Lead

However, Meza’s name was recently given to the department through an anonymous Crime Stopper’s tipster who also described the clothes Meza was wearing at the time he went missing.

This helped officers, years later, to finally confirm Meza’s identity through familial DNA last month.

How Familial DNA Matching Works

The process, usually used to identify perpetrators, utilizes software that searches for familial DNA links instead of a direct match.

This requires investigators to search for individuals who match some genetic markers of DNA left at crime scenes. Previously, police had to match 20 markers to tie a person to the crime. Now, a match of 10 out of 20 markers suggests a person is closely related to the person of interest, allowing investigators to gain a lead and work their way to uncover the suspect.

Authorities across the United States scour criminal DNA databases, as well as genealogical databases used by the public, to track down relatives and ancestors to find familial DNA.

However, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office took a more direct approach, obtaining DNA from the source.

“We were able to take Salvador’s name, track down who his family members were, figure out where they were, and ask them, ‘Hey, can we get a DNA sample? We think that your loved one might be the bones that we’ve had for nearly 25 years,’ and they were more than willing to,” Botti said.

Cold Case Detective Asks Public to Help Solve Murder

Now that his remains have been identified, it was further revealed that Meza was a victim of homicide.

Detectives hope that the release of Meza’s identity and photo will generate new leads in the case.

“We believe that there’s people that are still out in the Huron and Coalinga area specifically who knew Salvador, maybe knew what was going on in his life, and we’re asking them to step up, give us a call, and share any details that you might have,” Botti said.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact cold case detective Sergio Toscano at (559) 600-8027 or Valley Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-7867,www.valleycrimestoppers.org.

Anya Ellis began working for GV Wire in July 2023. The daughter of journalists, Anya is a Fresno native and Buchanan High School graduate. She is currently at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in film and media studies and minoring in creative writing. She plans to pursue her masters in screenwriting after graduating. You can contact Anya at anya.ellis@gvwire.com.